Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, June 2020
US-Russian Rivalry, Turkish, Italian, Gulf, Egyptian Interventions Intensify in Libya
June 19, 2020
There is new evidence of Russian aircraft active in Libyan airspace: AFRICOM
By Sami Zaptia.
Libya Herald, London, 19 June 2020:
There is new evidence of Russian aircraft active in Libyan airspace: US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said yesterday. It said Russian aircraft delivered to Libya in late May are now being actively flown in Libya.
These Russian aircraft are being used to support private military companies (PMCs) sponsored by the Russian government. U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) has photographic evidence of a Russian aircraft taking off from al-Jufra, Libya. A MiG-29 was also photographed operating in the vicinity of the city of Sirte, Libya.
“Russia’s sustained involvement in Libya increases the violence and delays a political solution,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bradford Gering, USAFRICOM director of operations. “Russia continues to push for a strategic foothold on NATO’s southern flank and this is at the expense of innocent Libyan lives.”
In late May, USAFRICOM reported that at least 14 MiG-29s and several Su-24s were flown from Russia to Syria, where their Russian markings were painted over to camouflage their Russian origin. These aircraft were then flown into Libya in direct violation of the United Nations arms embargo.
“We know these fighters were not already in Libya and being repaired,” said Col. Chris Karns, director of USAFRICOM public affairs. “Clearly, they came from Russia. They didn’t come from any other country.”
Russia’s introduction of manned, armed attack aircraft into Libya changes the nature of the current conflict and intensifies the potential of risk to all Libyans, especially innocent civilians.
“There is concern these Russian aircraft are being flown by inexperienced, non-state PMC mercenaries who will not adhere to international law; namely, they are not bound by the traditional laws of armed conflict,” Gering said. “If this is true and bombing occurs, innocent Libyan lives are at risk.”
As the number one arms dealer in Africa, Russia continues to profit from violence and instability across the continent. Russian government backed PMCs, such as the Wagner Group, are active in sixteen countries across Africa. It is estimated that there are about 2,000 Wagner Group personnel in Libya.
“Russia has relentlessly stuck to a narrative of implausible denials in the media,” said Karns. “It’s difficult to deny facts. Russian interference and masking of activity in Libya is visible and delaying progress. Progress the people of Libya deserve.”
Turkey's Foreign Minister says US is now playing more viable role in Libya
Libya Observer, June 18, 2020 - 20:54
The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday the United States started to have a more viable role in Libya, saying Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump had reached a common ground regarding the Libyan crisis.
Speaking at a webinar with the US-based Turkish American National Steering Committee, Cavusoglu said President Erdogan offered his US counterpart Trump to work together in Libya and Trump took it positively.
"Turkish foreign and defense ministries and intelligence will soon work with US counterparts on Libya. We received instructions to work together - with US counterparts - which "is important for the stability of the region and future of Libya." He said, adding that the two countries would like to further expand their cooperation areas.
These remarks came a day after He visited Libya, along with a high-level delegation, to meet the Head of the Presidential Council Fayez Al-Sarraj in Tripoli, where they discussed latest developments and joint cooperation.
The visit aimed at discussing the start of development projects in Libya in economy, security and military fields as well as in trade, education and infrastructure, such as building bridges and public as well as private residential sites, Turkish news agency said, adding that Ankara wants Libya to be strong in all fields.
The Turkish and Libyan officials reviewed the ongoing conflict and international efforts to reach a solution for the crisis, besides the return of Turkish firms to resume their projects in Libya, touchingupon cooperation in infrastructure and oil sectors.
The meeting saw discussions about implementing the MoU between Turkey and GNA in military and security cooperation, which was signed last November. They specifically discussed cooperation in boosting Libya's defense and security capabilities by training programs, let alone reviewing cooperation methods of the MoU of the maritime boundaries' demarcation.
Italian demining experts help remove mines planted by Haftar's forces in south Tripoli
Libya Observer, June 18, 2020 - 20:48
The Italian embassy in Libya said a team of explosives' experts, part of joint Italian-Libyan mission for support and assistance, started helping Libyan military engineers in removing mines planted by Khalifa Haftar's forces in southern Tripoli.
The Italian embassy published photos for the demining work on Twitter on Thursday, saying the aim of the assistance is to avoid any new casualties in the area.
This joint Italian-Libyan cooperation was announced by the Libyan Foreign Ministry last Sunday as the Government of National Accord was working on cooperation with countries like Turkey and Italy as well as relevant organizations to remove the mines to ensure safe return of displaced people to their houses.
The Italian ambassador Giuseppe Buccino told Head of High Council of State Khalid Al-Mishri last Monday that his country was ready to assist Libya in demining efforts in south Tripoli.
High-level Turkish delegation visits Tripoli to further bolster relations
By Sami Zaptia.
Libya Herald, London, 18 June 2020:
A high-level Turkish delegation visited Tripoli yesterday to further bolster relations between the two governments. The Turkish delegation included the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Treasury and Finance and the Head of Turkish Intelligence.
They were met on the Libyan side by the internationally recognized Libyan Prime Minister Faiez Serraj as well as his Foreign Minister, Interior Minister, Finance and Acting Economy Minister, and head of the National Oil Corporation (NOC).
Tripoli reported that the meeting ‘‘discussed the latest developments in Libya and international efforts to resolve the current crisis, as well as a number of cooperation issues in various fields within the framework of the close ties of brotherhood and friendship between the two countries’’.
The meeting also ‘‘touched on the return of Turkish companies to complete their work in Libya, in addition to the mechanisms of cooperation and integration in the fields of investment, infrastructure and oil, and outlined the approach adopted by Libya to develop the concept of development through public-private partnership’’.
Tripoli also reported that ‘‘during the meeting, the implementation of the security and military memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries last November, especially with regard to cooperation in building Libyan defence and security capabilities through training, rehabilitation and equipping programmes, as well as updates on the memorandum of understanding on the definition of maritime powers, were followed up’’.
Analysts noted that the high-level delegation is part symbolic and part celebratory. Having delivered militarily and helped Tripoli drive Hafter’s forces (and their domestic and foreign allies) away from Tripoli and western Libya to as far east as Sirte, Turkey is now looking to convert this leverage.
It will be looking to nail down some tangible economic returns such the payment of old debts for part-completed projects as well as new ones, as well as military returns in the form of possible permanent military bases.
UNSMIL concerned about ill-treatment of Egyptians by Tripoli-aligned forces in Tarhuna
By Sami Zaptia.
UNSMIL said yesterday that it was concerned about the arrest, detention and ill-treatment of a large number of Egyptian nationals in the city of Tarhuna in potential violation to Libya’s international human rights law obligations on the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
It said that it welcomed the statement released by the Tripoli Ministry of Interior on this issue and called on the local authorities in Tripoli to conduct a prompt investigation, to uncover their fate and whereabouts and to ensure their treatment in accordance with international standards.
The statement by UNSMIL comes on the back of reports and video footage circulating on social media of forces aligned to the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli ill-treating Egyptian workers in Tarhuna – after the withdrawal from Tarhuna by the Khalifa Hafter aligned forces.
The crime that the Egyptian workers seemed to be accused of by their tormentors in the video clips was no more than the fact that they were firstly working in a city previously under Hafter-aligned forces and that their country supports Hafter.
The Tripoli government has not denied the incident and has undertaken to investigate it.
Serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law continue to be committed with complete impunity in Libya: UNSMIL’s Williams
By Sami Zaptia.
Speaking at the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council yesterday, Acting SRSG and UNSMIL head Stephanie Williams said that since former SRSG Salame’s briefing in September of last year, serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law have continued to be committed with complete and total impunity in Libya. The impact of these violation on the population is now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘‘Following the commencement of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) offensive on Tripoli on 4 April 2019, we witnessed an alarming military build-up as a result of the uninterrupted dispatch by the foreign backers of increasingly sophisticated and lethal weapons, not to mention the recruitment of more mercenaries to both sides of the conflict, in flagrant violation of the UN arms embargo. As it withdrew from Tripoli’s southern suburbs last month, the LAAF left behind mines and improvised explosive devices, imperiling the safety and security of returning residents and resulting in the deaths of civilians, including children, as well as security personnel tasked with clearing these deadly devices.
Once more, civilians in Libya continue to suffer disproportionately. One million people are now in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including 400,000 internally displaced Libyans, along with 654,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. In the last year alone, 225,000 Libyans were forced to flee their homes, mostly in and around the capital, with the latest wave of displacement having occurred following the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) takeover of Tarhouna earlier this month.
From April 2019 until General Haftar’s forces were driven from south Tripoli, the two million residents of the capital experienced almost constant bombardment, frequent water and electricity cuts, a situation now compounded by restricted movement as a result of preventive COVID-19 measures.
Between 1 January and 31 March 2020, UNSMIL documented at least 131 civilian casualties (64 deaths and 67 injuries), caused mainly by ground fighting, with 81% of casualties attributed to the LAAF, representing an increase in civilian casualties of 45 per cent compared to the last quarter of 2019. Between 1 April and 11 June of this year, civilian casualties further increased dramatically, with UNSMIL documenting 250 civilian casualties, including 82 civilians killed and 168 civilians injured. In 2020, WHO documented at least 21 attacks on medical facilities, ambulances and medical personnel, in one of the most shocking ongoing manifestations of this conflict.
As hostilities continue, with battle lines shifting to the center of the country and social polarization escalating, I note with concern increasing retaliatory acts. The takeover in April of western coastal towns by GNA-affiliated groups was accompanied by reports of acts of retribution, including looting, robberies and torching of public and private properties.
Most recently with the recapture of Tarhouna by the GNA from the 9th Brigade “al-Kaniyat”, an affiliated-LAAF armed group, we have received with horror news of the discovery of multiple mass graves as well as the discovery of numerous bodies at Tarhouna hospital UNSMIL has now received an official request from the GNA to provide support in the form of technical assistance to the national authorities on the mass graves, including participation in the investigation into mass graves in Southern Tripoli and Tarhuna, the identification and demarcation of and collection of evidence from all mass graves in conformity with international standards. UNSMIL has also received reports of hundreds of enforced disappearances, torture, killings and displacement of entire families in Tarhouna over recent years. We have called for a prompt, impartial investigation by the authorities into all alleged cases of unlawful killings.
Some 8,800 people remain detained at 28 official prisons in Libya, among whom an estimated 500 are women and around 60% are kept in pre-trial detention. There are additionally some 10,000 people detained in detention centers under the authority of armed groups. UNSMIL continues to receive credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention, torture, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, denial of visits from families and lawyers, and deprivation of access to justice. I welcome reports, as yet unconfirmed releases of prisoners in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic, which I hope can be verified. I have called repeatedly on the authorities to release further prisoners, particularly women and children, persons with disabilities, persons with medical conditions, older persons, migrants and refugees.
Migrants and asylum seekers in Libya continue to be routinely subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, including sexual violence, abduction for ransom, extortion, forced labour and unlawful killings. On 27 May at least 30 migrants were killed and 11 injured in Mezda by an armed group affiliated to traffickers and the LAAF. Since January, more than 4,000 people have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya, frequently to abusive conditions in detention, whilst others have disappeared altogether. UNSMIL emphasizes that Libya is not a safe port of return for migrants and asylum seekers. We have also received reports of the failure to assist and pushbacks of migrant boats in the central Mediterranean, which continues to be one of the deadliest migration routes in the world.
Social media has been increasingly used to incite hatred and violence in Libya, and images of people committing war crimes, including the desecration of corpses, have frequently been posted online, further fraying an already fragile social fabric. Human rights defenders, journalists and other media professionals continue to be subjected to intimidation, threats and arbitrary detention. Next month, it will be one year since Member of Parliament Sihem Serghewa was violently abducted from her home in Benghazi. Ms. Serghewa is one of countless cases of enforced disappearances in Libya. Her disappearance underscores the impunity that is prevailing in the country and, in this case, the silencing of one of Libya’s prominent female voices and the intimidation of others seeking to participate in the country’s political life. We call upon the concerned authorities to thoroughly investigate Ms. Serghewa’s disappearance, to provide information on her whereabouts, and to hold accountable those responsible for the attack.
The key priority for the UN is to find a peaceful solution to the current conflict within the framework of the conclusions endorsed during the 19 January International Conference in Berlin and UNSCR 2510. Our mission remains to help Libyans rebuild a state strong enough to peacefully contain political differences. I welcome the resumption of the Joint Military Commission 5+5 ceasefire negotiations. We appreciate the interest and engagement of Berlin participants, Member States and regional organizations alike, in the International Follow-Up Committee on Libya. The raison d’être of the Committee is to ensure implementation of the Berlin commitments. Discussions have begun in the four thematic working groups established under the Committee, including a dedicated working group on International Humanitarian Law and human rights. We are looking to your continued support to turn these commitments into tangible actions.
With that need for concrete deliverables in mind, and along with OHCHR, I agree that a Human Rights Council mandate to establish an investigative mechanism would be both the simplest and strongest basis for promoting much needed accountability in Libya. Given the ongoing serious violations occurring every day in the country, the establishment of such a mechanism would be important. I very much welcome, therefore, the draft resolution presented to the Council in this regard, supported by the State of Libya’’.
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