US and European leaders on Monday called for a ceasefire in Libya and for the United Nations to take a leading role in helping to stop the spiralling violence and lawlessness.
The appeal came after a conference call between US President Obama, German Chancellor Merkel, French President Hollande and the prime ministers of Britain and Italy, Cameron and Renzi, a German government statement said.
The statement read: ‘The five heads of state and government condemned the violence against civilians, the intimidation of state representatives and the disruption of the political process.’ In the telephone talks, the leaders also addressed the crises in Ukraine and Gaza.
They called on the United Nations ‘to play an essential role in facilitating the political process’ in order to restore stability in Libya. The leaders agreed ‘an immediate ceasefire between the militias in Tripoli was necessary,’ it added.
The Tripoli clashes are the most violent since a 2011 imperialist-backed armed revolt that overthrew Muammar Gadaffi, started with a July 13 assault on the airport by armed groups, mainly Islamists.
The deadly fighting has spread to other cities and on Monday a huge fire erupted at an oil depot outside the Libyan capital, threatening its vital oil industry already hit by the exodus of foreign workers.
The violence has led the United Nations and the United States to withdraw their personnel from Libya while other Western powers have told their nationals to leave the country.
In a major blow to its power and position, one of the militia’s, the Al-Sa’iqah Special Forces Brigade, has been forced to abandon its headquarters in Buwatni District after another day of intensive missile strikes by Ansar al-Shari’ah and its allies.
Al-Sa’iqah had earlier denied the loss. However, Al-Sa’iqah commander Wani Bukhamadah acknowledged the decision to pull out. Ansar are reported to have also entered the nearby 21 Battalion headquarters, another Al-Sa’iqah unit.
In a further blow, a Mig jet fighter being used by the Operation Dignity forces of which Al-Sa’iqah is a part, crashed into waste ground in Kuwayfiyah.
Ansar and its allies launched their offensive against the Al-Sa’iqah base a week ago. Following the attack, Bukhamadah put out an appeal for urgent reinforcements to repel its opponents.
Since then fierce fighting between both sides, which has seen continued missile attacks by Ansar and its allies and air strikes by Operation Dignity planes, has inflicted massive damage in the district and surrounding areas, notably Laythi, an Ansar stronghold. Dozens have been killed and many more injured.
Late on Wednesday night there was heavy fighting in Laythi until well after sunrise as Operation Dignity forces tried to weaken Ansar and its allies. Further fighting in the district is continuing.
Earlier on Wednesday, the head of Al-Sa’iqah Special Forces Investigations Unit, Fadil al-Hasi, said that Al-Sa’iqah had captured 12 Ansar members in the Buwatni area near its headquarters.
Claiming that they were snipers, he said three were Syrians, five were from Darnah and the rest from Benghazi. Also speaking to the media, Hijazi insisted that everything was under control.
He referred to Ansar and its allies as ‘dogs’ who did not care about the Libya people, declaring that ‘these are their last days’. Libyan Air Force Brigadier-General Saqr Adam Girushi, the commander of Operation Dignity’s air forces, a couple of days ago also said Ansar was facing destruction.
He said: ‘This will take time. But we will win.’ Meanwhile, roads in Buwatni and Budaymah Districts remain closed and residents are not being allowed in.
Meanwhile, despite attempts to organise a ceasefire so that the fire at Brega Oil and Gas Company’s fuel depot on Airport Road would be fought and put out, the fire is still raging after another missile hit a tank in renewed clashes.
Elsewhere, the media coordinator at Brega, Fathi Darhubi, has confirmed that the fires had spread to two additional tanks. A total of five tanks were now on fire, he said. Darhubi confirmed that the fighting near the tanks continued, causing great difficulty to those who are trying to put out the fires.
Earlier, Italian oil and gas company ENI had agreed to send seven fire-fighting planes to Libya to help put out the massive blaze. It was responding to the Libyan government’s call for local and foreign assistance to control the inferno. Italy said it would also send fire-fighting teams.
The Italian government had stated on Monday that it would be willing to provide assistance if the militia battling each other would cease fighting to allow fire-fighters to operate more securely.
Tripoli’s Municipal Council was able to negotiate a cease-fire between the warring militias late on Monday night. The 24-hour ceasefire began at 8.00am on Tuesday morning.
The National Oil Company, in a statement on its social media site, said that the ceasefire would also allow for the repair and maintenance of power lines. Tripoli has been experiencing massive and prolonged power cuts.
In the event, the renewed clashes put paid to Italy’s attempts to help. ENI, for their part, evacuated their Tripoli office staff more than a week ago when fighting in the capital first broke out.
South Korea on Wednesday imposed a travel ban on Libya again as spiralling violence in the African country raised security concerns. Seoul’s foreign ministry said it decided to raise its travel alert for Libya by one notch to the highest level, citing grave concerns for security in the country. The move will be effective for six months.
Since mid-July, South Korea, which has a four-tier travel advisory system, has strongly recommended that local companies withdraw their staff or reduce the number of their workers at an early date, the ministry said.
In 2011, Seoul put a travel ban on Libya amid intense anti-government protests and lifted it at the end of that year. The move will require all Koreans staying there to leave Libya and ban its nationals from entering the country with some exceptional cases, the foreign ministry said.
The move comes as intensifying violence between armed militias in Tripoli has raised alertness about security there. The United Nations and the United States have withdrawn their staff and nationals from Libya, and some countries have told their citizens to leave, according to foreign reports.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said that it plans to set up a task force to support Koreans’ move to leave the country in the near future. It said it will also seek to consult with authorities in Tunisia to check land routes for evacuation.
Currently, 20 Korean companies, mostly builders, are doing business in Libya, with an estimated 500 South Koreans staying there.
The latest move raises the number of countries subject to South Korea’s travel bans to six. Seoul has banned its nationals from travelling to Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.