UN envoy warns ‘foreign interference’ is destroying Libya

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salame on Saturday warned international players to stop meddling in the Libyan conflict as ‘foreign interference’ was destroying the North African country.

Salame spoke with AFP on the eve of a summit of world powers scheduled for Sunday in Germany to try to bring peace to Libya and its people.

“All foreign interference can provide some aspirin effect in the short term, but Libya needs all foreign interference to stop. That’s one of the objectives of this conference,” Ghassan Salame said in an interview ahead of the Berlin summit.

Leaders of Russia, Turkey and France are due to join talks in Berlin on Sunday held under the auspices of the United Nations, which wants to extract a pledge from foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop meddling in the conflict — be it by supplying weapons, troops or financing.

Both leaders of the warring factions — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — are also expected at the first gathering of such scale on the conflict since 2018.

Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi and toppled his regime.

More recently, Sarraj’s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar’s forces, with clashes killing more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displacing tens of thousands.

– ‘Vicious cycle’ -Although Sarraj’s government is recognised by the UN, some powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar — turning a domestic conflict into what is essentially a proxy war with international powers jostling to secure their own interests from global influence to oil and migration.

Alarm grew internationally when Ankara ordered in troops early January to help shore up Sarraj, while Moscow is suspected of providing weapons, financing and mercenaries to Haftar — something Russia has denied.

“We must end this vicious cycle of Libyans calling for the help of foreign powers. Their intervention deepens the divisions among the Libyans,” said Salame, noting that the place of international players should be to “help Libyans develop themselves”. 

The UN envoy said Sunday’s meeting will also seek to “consolidate” a shaky ceasefire.

“Today we only have a truce. We want to transform it into a real ceasefire with monitoring, separation (of rival camps), repositioning of heavy weapons” outside urban zones, he said.

The UN had sought on multiple attempts to bid for peace, but talks have repeatedly collapsed.

– Erdogan issues warning -On the eve of the Berlin talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Europe to stand united behind Sarraj’s government, as Tripoli’s fall could leave “fertile ground” for jihadist groups like IS or Al-Qaeda “to get back on their feet”.

Erdogan also played up Europe’s fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis in his commentary for Politico news website, that further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for the continent.

Accusing France in particular of siding with Haftar, Erdogan said leaving Libya to the general would be a “mistake of historic proportions”. 

France has denied it was backing Haftar. But a diplomatic source noted that the fact that the general already controls 80 percent of Libya needed to be taken into account.

The European Union is watching with growing alarm at the escalating strife on its doorstep as it counts on Libya as a gatekeeper deterring migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.

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