UN chief tells Libya’s Hifter there is no military solution

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the commander of Libya’s eastern-based forces on Wednesday that there can be no military solution to the conflict he launched in April 2019 against the UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the commander, Khalifa Hifter, called the secretary-general and they discussed current developments in the oil-rich country, which saw his forces retreat from Tripoli last month.

Guterres also spoke to Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, who indicated his commitment to a dialogue within the Libyan Joint Military Commission “and expressed his interest in a political solution based on elections,” Dujarric said.

The secretary-general told Hifter that “the solution can only be political, and Libyan-owned and Libyan-led,” and he reaffirmed the UN commitment to talks between the two sides in the Libyan Joint Military Commission, Dujarric said.

The UN chief also reiterated his shock at the recent discovery of mass graves in territory recently recaptured from forces commanded by Hifter “and stressed the need for full respect of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” the spokesman said.

File photo of Khalifa Hifter in Athens. PHOTO: AP

In his call with Serraj, Guterres also expressed shock at the recent discovery of mass graves “and stated that the UN was ready to assist in efforts to ensure accountability,” Dujarric said.

The UN said June 12 that at least eight mass graves had been discovered, mostly in Tarhuna, a key western town that served as a main stronghold for Hifter’s forces in their 14-month campaign to capture Tripoli. The discoveries raised fears about the extent of human rights violations in territories controlled by Hifter’s forces, given the difficulties of documentation in an active war zone.

Hifter’s failed campaign to capture the capital has led to a humanitarian crisis, with one million people in need of aid and almost a half million people internally displaced.

The prime minister indicated his commitment to a dialogue within the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission and expressed his interest in a political solution based on elections.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Hifter’s forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-allied militias are aided by Qatar, Italy and Turkey.

Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war in early June after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli. They threatened to retake the strategic city of Sirte, which could allow them to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that Hifter seized earlier this year as part of his offensive on Tripoli.