UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Libya is demanding an end to all foreign interference in the war-torn country, saying that a military solution is impossible and governments and mercenaries helping rival forces are hindering a political solution.
Ghassan Salame told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors Monday that his message to all those supporting dueling authorities in the east, and in the capital Tripoli and the west, is: “Get out of Libya.”
Despite an arms embargo against Libya, he said, weapons are being sold and given to Libyans, and “probably thousands” of mercenaries have been sent to the country lately, creating a “bleak” situation for millions of people.
Civil war in Libya in 2011 toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. In the chaos that followed, the country was divided, with a weak U.N.-supported administration in Tripoli overseeing the country's west and a rival government in the east aligned with the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, each supported by an array of militias.
Hifter launched a surprise military offensive April 4 aimed at capturing Tripoli despite commitments to attend a national conference weeks later aimed at forming a united government and moving toward elections. Last month, Hifter declared a “final” and decisive battle to take Tripoli, and his LNA announced earlier Monday it had taken Gadhafi’s birthplace, Sirte, though Salame said it had only taken “some areas.”
The U.N. envoy also pointed to a drone attack Saturday on a military facility in Tripoli that killed dozens of unarmed military trainees, saying it was carried out by a country supporting Hifter's LNA.
Libya's east-based government is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. The Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.
Salame said there are more than enough weapons and mercenaries in Libya now, and all countries supporting both sides should “get out of the Libyan nightmare” — including Turkey, whose parliament last Thursday authorized the deployment of troops to help the beleaguered government.
He said some people believe a military solution is possible, but he doesn’t see any party able to capture and control the oil-rich North African country that is three times the size of France.
“The more we give hopes to this side or to that side, the more you render a political solution extremely difficult,” Salame said. “So better avoid escalating and internationalizing this conflict.”
He said he is angry that the Security Council has discussed Libya 15 times since Hifter launched his offensive on April 4 and hasn’t approved a resolution demanding a cease-fire.
The council issued a brief statement Monday expressing concern at ”the escalations in the last few days" and calling for compliance with the arms embargo and a halt to “foreign interference." It reiterated support for U.N. efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.
“I am really angry to see that everybody wants to talk about Libya, and very few people want to talk about the Libyans,” Salame said. “People are suffering and for no other reason but for the fact that there is no international clear message that enough is enough.”
He said civilians are being killed, dozens of schools and health facilities are attacked, more than 300,000 people have fled their homes “and the Libyans are asking ... ‘Where is that international community that in 2011 said it will protect the civilians?’”
Despite the current difficult situation, he said he is moving ahead on three tracks to try and get the rival sides together.
Salame said representatives of all parties met for the first time Monday in Tunisia’s capital Tunis on economic and financial issues.
He said he hopes in the next two weeks to launch talks on military and security issues including a cease-fire, the arms embargo, terrorism and counter-terrorism. And he expressed hope that a political dialogue can be launched before the end of January, probably in Geneva.
In late July, Salame called for an international conference to support efforts to bring Libyans together, and he said Monday he hopes it will take place in Berlin “in the next few weeks, and possibly before the end of January.”
He expressed hope that the Berlin conference “gives an international push and international umbrella” to the U.N. efforts on the ground.
“The Libyans should come together and stop this prima donna behavior ... and accept mutual concessions to divide power which is the basic part of a political settlement,” Salame said.