UN chief issues stark Libya warning as fighting rages south of Tripoli

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Commander Khalifa Haftar with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, at Haftar's office in the Rajma military, base 25 kilometres east of Libya's second city of Benghazi. (AFP)
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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with Ghassan Salame, UN special envoy for Libya in Benghazi on April 5, 2019. (AFP)
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Commander Khalifa Haftar with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, at Haftar's office in the Rajma military, base 25 kilometres east of Libya's second city of Benghazi. (AFP)
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Aguila Saleh, Libya's parliament president, shakes hand with Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres in Tobruk, Libya April 5, 2019. (Reuters)
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Members of the Libyan forces loyal to the Tripoli government check military vehicles they claimed were confiscated from Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar's troops, in Zawiyah, west of Tripoli. (Reuters)
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Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya April 4, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 06 April 2019

UN chief issues stark Libya warning as fighting rages south of Tripoli

  • Troops allied to the Tripoli government moved more vehicles from the western city of Misrata to defend the capital
  • Since Qaddafi’s downfall, the country has been divided between the UN-backed government in Tripoli and the parallel administration allied to Haftar

TRIPOLI: UN chief Antonio Guterres pushed Friday to avoid a military escalation in Libya, as commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces clashed with pro-government fighters south of the capital Tripoli.
Haftar on Thursday launched an offensive to take the capital, held by a UN-backed unity government and an array of militias.
The lightning assault was met with international appeals for restraint and an emergency UN Security Council meeting was set to be held later Friday.

Guterres met Haftar in the eastern city of Benghazi at the end of a visit to the chaos-hit country, but neither his self-proclaimed Libyan National Army or the UN gave details of the talks.
“I leave Libya with a deep concern and a heavy heart,” Guterres said in a statement.
“I still hope it will be possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in Tripoli.”
Eastern Libyan forces seized the former Tripoli International Airport on the southern outskirts of the capital, a spokesman said.
Ahmed Al-Mesmari also told reporters his forces were in control of Tarhouna and Aziziya, two towns near Tripoli. He said five of his troops had been killed.

Militias in western Libya fought forces under rival army commander Khalifa Haftar on Friday, capturing 100 of his soldiers.

Earlier, LNA forces clashed with a pro-government alliance less than 50 kilometers south of the capital, a unity government source said.
Haftar’s press office confirmed there had been “violent fighting on the edge of Tripoli with armed militias.”

LNA forces had been pushed back Friday from a key checkpoint less than 30 kilometers from the capital, checking their offensive, a security source said.
Pro-government militiamen from the coastal town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, retook the base after a “short exchange of fire,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
The head of the UN-backed unity government, Fayez Al-Sarraj, visited the checkpoint on Friday accompanied by military commanders.
The Zawiya militia is one of dozens that have proliferated since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi and are variously aligned with Sarraj’s government and a rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.
Most of the pro-Haftar fighters who briefly captured the checkpoint late on Thursday were rival militiamen from the town of Sabratha, further west along the Mediterranean coast.
Dozens of them were captured and their vehicles seized, the security source said.
The Tripoli Protection Force, an alliance of pro-government militias in the capital, said its fighters had taken part in the recapture of the checkpoint.
A convoy of vehicles from Haftar’s forces on Thursday pushed toward the city of Gharyan, some 100 kilometers south of Tripoli on Thursday, witnesses and military sources said.
Haftar said “the time has come” to take Tripoli in an audio message released on Thursday, pledging to spare civilians and “state institutions.”
Sarraj condemned the strongman’s “escalation” and said he had ordered loyalist forces to prepare to “face all threats.”
The announcement of the offensive came as Guterres was in Tripoli for talks with Sarraj ahead of a planned conference later this month on organizing elections.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that despite the flare-up preparations were continuing for the April conference.
The United States and its allies issued a joint statement urging “all parties to immediately de-escalate tensions.”
“At this sensitive moment in Libya’s transition, military posturing and threats of unilateral action only risk propelling Libya back toward chaos,” they said.
Russia called for “all possible efforts to fully resolve the situation with peaceful political means.”
“We believe that the main thing is for any actions not to lead to renewed bloodshed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Analysts say the advance by Haftar’s forces comes at a key moment as the UN bids to get elections back on track after an abortive effort last year.
“The risk of a flare-up has increased,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at Clingendael Institute in The Hague.
“Capturing Tripoli... remains a possibility” for Haftar, with the support he receives from Saudi Arabia and its allies Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, he said.
Haftar held talks in Riyadh late last month and his forces have reportedly received major arms deliveries from the UAE, including aircraft, despite a UN embargo.
They already overran most of the remote oil fields and oasis cities of the desert south during an offensive earlier this year.
The government’s writ is now largely confined to the narrow coastal strip around Tripoli and third city Misrata to its east.

 


Two Turkish troops killed in attack in northern Iraq

Updated 30 sec ago

Two Turkish troops killed in attack in northern Iraq

  • Turkey has regularly attacked Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants
  • Ankara launched a new ground offensive dubbed Operation Claw-Tiger
ANKARA: Two Turkish soldiers were killed and another was wounded after Kurdish militants fired rockets at a military base in northern Iraq, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Turkey has regularly attacked Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, both in its mainly Kurdish southeast and in northern Iraq, where the group is based. In June, Ankara launched a new ground offensive, dubbed Operation Claw-Tiger, that saw Turkish troops advance deeper into Iraq.
The ministry said “harassment fire” by rocket launchers on Thursday killed the two troops at one of Turkey’s bases in neighboring Iraq.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict focused in southeast Turkey.
In a separate statement, the Interior Ministry said 71 PKK militants had been killed since July 13 as part of a series of operations within Turkey, dubbed the “Lightning Operations,” and added 38 collaborators had also been captured.