UNITED NATIONS (PA) – The UN chief says foreign fighters and mercenaries remain in Libya in violation of last October’s ceasefire agreement and called for their withdrawal and an end violations of the UN arms embargo, claiming they are “critical elements” for lasting peace in the North African country and in the region.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the UN Security Council obtained by The Associated Press on Friday that the smooth transfer of power to a new interim government, which took power in March, “brings hope. renewed for the reunification of the country and its institutions and for a lasting peace.
But he said progress must continue on the political, economic and security fronts to allow the elections to take place on December 24.
Libya has been ravaged by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and divided the oil-rich North African country between a UN-backed government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east of the country, each supported by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, east-based commander Khalifa Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive in an attempt to capture Tripoli. Its 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up military support for the UN-backed government with hundreds of soldiers and thousands of Syrian mercenaries. An October ceasefire agreement that called for all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libya within 90 days led to an agreement on the transitional government and December elections.
The UN estimated in December that there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. But at an informal council meeting in late April, speakers said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, diplomats said.
Guterres said in the new report that although the ceasefire continues to exist, the UN political mission in Libya has received reports of fortifications and defensive positions being put in place in central Libya on the key road between the strategic city of Sirte, gateway to the country’s main oil fields and export terminals, as well as Jufra.
“Despite the commitments made by the parties, air cargo activities have reportedly continued with flights to various air bases in the western and eastern regions of Libya,” the secretary general said. “Reports indicate that there has been no reduction in the number of foreign fighters or their activities in central Libya.”
Guterres said the government of national unity must prioritize security sector reform, including filling high-level civilian and military positions, producing a roadmap for the reunification of the Libyan army and by fighting against the proliferation of armed groups.
“It is vital to bring one of the largest uncontrolled stockpiles of arms and ammunition in the world under state control,” he said. “I reiterate my call on Member States and national Libyan actors to end violations of the arms embargo and facilitate the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the country.”
Last month, the Security Council approved a resolution urging all foreign and mercenary forces to leave Libya and allowing a small UN team to monitor the ceasefire agreement. In an April 7 letter to the council, Guterres proposed an initial maximum of 60 monitors for staged deployment as part of the United Nations mission, known as UNSMIL.
In his new report, Guterres said the deployment of observers to Libya was conditional on the UN General Assembly approving the resources needed to cover security, logistics, health and operational needs. , which will be submitted “in the near future”.
He also referred to human rights violations, in particular the continued detention of migrants and refugees. According to the latest report from the International Organization for Migration, there are over 571,000 migrants in Libya. And as of May 2, Guterres said more than 4,300 migrants and refugees were being held in detention centers across the country.
Guterres called on the Libyan authorities to release migrants and refugees from detention centers “urgently” and put in place measures to protect them from sexual violence.