Libya crisis: United Nations warns attacks on civilians may amount to war crimes

Posted April 12, 2019

Tripoli's only functioning airport has been attacked as eastern forces advancing on the Libyan capital disregard worldwide appeals for a truce in the latest of a cycle of warfare ongoing since Muammar Gaddafi's fall in 2011.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya, Maria Ribeiro, said Monday the fighting had displaced more than 2,800 people, blocked rescuers from reaching casualties and damaged electricity lines.

The LNA-backed parliament, which was elected in 2014 and is based in the city of Tobruk, controls the east of Libya, while the internationally recognised government, established in 2015, governs Libya's western parts from Tripoli.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in NY on Monday that "unfortunately" the United Nations received "no positive news" in response to its urgent appeal for a truce in Tripoli.

The LNA has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance into the center from a disused airport.

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The death toll - mainly composed of fighters - was reported by local health facilities near the capital to the World Health Organisation (WHO) - Reuters reported, thousands of civilians have fled the city.

It also warns that those who remain risk being cut off from vital services because of the clashes. However, militias supporting the United Nations -backed government in Tripoli claimed Monday they recaptured the facility. Its elite Saiqa (Lightning) force, numbers some 3,500, while Haftar's sons also have well-equipped troops, LNA sources say.

Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO's director for the eastern Mediterranean, said that targeting of medical staff was "unacceptable" and "worsens the situation for civilians caught up in conflict".

Separately, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet reiterated those calls and urged both sides to refrain from further escalation.

The UN mission to Libya called on Sunday for a truce for two hours in southern Tripoli to evacuate civilians and wounded, but it did not appear to have been heeded.

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Salame later Monday condemned the attack on Mitiga, saying it was "a serious violation of global humanitarian law".

Michelle Bachelet said all parties to the conflict must make every effort to protect civilians.

The UN had scheduled a three-day conference on April 14 in the southwestern town of Ghadames to discuss a constitutional framework for elections as a way to end the North African country's eight-year crisis.

A security source at Mitiga airport, east of the capital, said no side had yet claimed responsibility for Monday's air raid, which hit a runway without causing casualties.

"The Libyan army moved towards Tripoli with one goal, to free Tripoli from armed militias", he said after meeting with the Arab League's secretary-general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

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A US amphibious hovercraft departs with evacuees from Janzur, west of Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, April 7, 2019.