France, Italy Urge Libyan Warring Factions to Reach Political Accord

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Libyan protesters burn an American flag during a protest in the eastern city of Benghazi on February 20, 2015 calling on the international community to lift the ban on arming the Libyan army. AFP/Abdullah Dowa.

Published Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Italy and France called on Tuesday for an accord among warring factions in Libya and said the world could not ignore near-anarchy there which was undermining regional security and feeding a growing migrant crisis.

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Muammar Gaddafi's one-man rule in 2011, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory across the North African state.

Speaking at a news conference with French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the two leaders agreed Libya "must be a priority of the international community and not a problem to delegate to a single European country."

But he added: "Today there are no plans for a peacekeeping mission also because the technical and logistical conditions are not right."

Italy, whose southern islands are around 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the Libyan coast, has warned repeatedly of the threat to Europe from the breakdown of order in Libya.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have arrived in unsafe boats run by people-smugglers operating from Libya and more than 300 died earlier this month while attempting the crossing.

The surge in arrivals so far this year, as well as the spread of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, has heightened security fears in the region.

"France supports the efforts of Italy to find a solution at the highest level, that's to say the United Nations, to a situation of chaos and terrorism," Hollande told reporters after the meeting with Renzi.

"The first requirement is to find a political accord between the different factions and to ensure that there can be one government, one parliament and one central bank."

France has more than 3,000 troops in the Sahel region as part of a counter-insurgency force that tracks al-Qaeda militants from southern Libya to Mauritania.

Meanwhile, Libya's internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani on Tuesday criticized the United States, Britain and European Union for failing to supply arms to his forces as they battle those of a rival government.

The tough comments came a day after Libya's elected parliament, allied to Thani, suspended its participation in UN-sponsored talks to try to end the power struggle between the two rival administrations and assemblies.

Thani has been confined to a rump state in the east since a rival faction called Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) seized the capital Tripoli in August, reinstating an assembly known as the General National Congress (GNC) and setting up a rival government.

Thani and the House of Representatives, also based in the east, enjoy the recognition of world powers. Many normal people demand military support in the power struggle with Tripoli, four years after NATO armed various groups and tribes against Gaddafi.

"Unfortunately, the international community and especially the United States, Britain and the European Union have refused to arm the Libyan army," Thani told Al-Arabiya.

"Fajr Libya is part of militant Islamists which get weapons, ammunition and supplies from all over the world," he said. "But America and Britain have other ideas against the interest of the Libyan people."

Libya is still under a UN arms embargo dating from the 2011 uprising, though the country is awash with weapons and dominated by armed factions.

Thani has been facing pressure from army general Khalifa Haftar who has merged his forces with army troops in the east to fight Islamist groups. While the alliance has managed to win back some territory in Benghazi, Haftar has drawn criticism for calling in airstrikes on civilian airports and seaports.

In a sign of pro-military sentiment, a committee of the House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to create the position of top military commander, its spokesman Farraj Hashem said.

Lawmakers did not name anyone but analysts expect Haftar to get the job. Some of his senior officers have already received official positions.

Woman activist shot dead in Tripoli

Amid political deadlock and deteriorating security condition, on Tuesday the body of a female civil society activist was found stuffed in the boot of a car in the Libyan capital, a security source said.

The corpse of Intissar al-Hassaeri was discovered in Tripoli along with that of her aunt "hours after their disappearance" on Monday night.

"Both were shot dead," the source added.

Hassaeri, 35, was a founding member of the Tanweer cultural and social movement.

The rights activist had taken part in several gatherings last year protesting the presence of militant groups in the capital.

The internationally-recognized government in a statement said: "This act clearly proves that Tripoli is not safe and is under the threat of terrorism."

In June, lawyer and human rights activist Salwa Bouguiguis was shot dead by unknown assailants in the second city of Benghazi, a month after a Libyan journalist was killed after he had criticized jihadist groups.

Woman, three children killed in Egyptian airstrike on Derna

Haftar is not the only military strongman who conducted airstrikes in Libya. On February 16 Egypt's air force bombed the Libyan city of Derna, a day after ISIS released a video appearing to show the beheading of 21 Egyptians there.

Amnesty International said in areport released on Monday that Egypt’s military failed to take the necessary precautions to avoid or minimize incidental harm to civilians during its airstrikes on Derna.

The report was based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who were interviewed by the organization. Seven civilians, including a mother and her three children, were killed in the attack.

“Egypt has now joined the ranks of those placing civilians at risk in Libya," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

"The killing of seven civilians, six of them in their own homes, must be investigated, as it appears to have been disproportionate. The Egyptian authorities must publicly disclose detailed information on all airstrikes carried out.”

The report said, Egypt’s war planes fired two missiles into a heavily populated residential area called Sheiha al-Gharbiya, close to the city’s university, according to eyewitnesses.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had denied that the airstrikes targeted civilians and said the army's 13 targets were studied carefully.

Amnesty International also called on "the Egyptian military and all warring parties in Libya to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and to ensure that their forces do not carry out direct attacks on civilians or attacks which are indiscriminate or disproportionate."

(AFP, Reuters, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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