Libya Tribune

Foreign meddling is fuelling a conflict in which there can be no victor. The thousands of migrants holed up in Libyan detention centres have endured unimaginable trauma.

After trekking through the Sahel at the mercy of bandits, human traffickers and rapists, they are rounded up and held for an average of two years in inhumane conditions.

Now they have become targets in the latest conflict to erupt in the oil-rich north African state.

At least 55 people, including six children, were killed last week when an air strike hit a detention centre in a Tripoli suburb.

It was the worst single incident since Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman, launched an offensive on the capital in April that dashed UN-led efforts to end years of violence and chaos.

The atrocity should have been a wake-up call for the international community, whose woeful response to the war between Mr Haftar and the UN-backed government in Tripoli has helped fuel the fighting.

Instead, there was largely silence in the immediate aftermath of what the UN envoy said could be a war crime.

It took two days for the UN Security Council to issue a statement condemning the attack — which the Tripoli government blames on Mr Haftar — and calling for a ceasefire.

The communiqué was apparently delayed by US foot dragging. The tepid reaction was indicative of the international attitude towards Libya.

Ever since rival factions carved the country into a patchwork of fiefdoms following the western-backed toppling of Muammer Gaddafi’s in 2011, foreign powers have played a duplicitous role.

While preaching peace and stability, regional powers have supported rival sides. Qatar and Turkey have supported militias loyal to the Tripoli government, while Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have backed Mr Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.

The main European players have also pursued rival interests that have muddied diplomatic efforts. Italy, which worries about the flow of migrants, has favoured the UN-backed government, while Paris has courted Mr Haftar.

US missiles sold to France have reportedly been captured from the Libyan strongman’s fighters.

Russia has also backed Mr Haftar — who controls eastern Libya and champions himself as the main force against Islamists — in what looks like an opportunistic move to extend its influence in the Arab world.

Washington, meanwhile, has delivered confused messages typical of the Trump administration’s incoherence on the Middle East.

The State Department initially condemned the fighting, only for Donald Trump to call Mr Haftar and praise his “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”.

The contradictory messages came at a time when Mr Haftar’s forces were laying siege to Tripoli, a city of 1.2m. More than 1,000 people have been killed since the offensive was launched.

Weapons have also been flooding in to all sides, in flagrant violation of a longstanding arms embargo. Such support, coupled with the inaction of the UN Security Council, has enabled a conflict in which there can be no victor.

The only result is more suffering for a war-weary population. World powers must put serious effort into securing a ceasefire and the UN Security Council needs to enforce the arms embargo.

There should then be concerted action to restart a UN-led diplomatic process that would offer the best chance of bringing a semblance of stability.

If no diplomatic process is launched, regional and international powers will be complicit in a proxy war that drives Libya towards deeper disintegration.

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