UN chief: mercenaries and foreign fighters must leave Libya

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is again urging countries to withdraw all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, saying they continue to operate throughout the conflict-stricken North African country in violation of last October’s cease-fire agreement “with no discernible abatement of their activities.”

The U.N. chief also urged countries supplying arms and military equipment to the foreign fighters to stop violating the U.N. arms embargo, saying, the movement of aircraft providing logistical support “also continued unabated” at airbases in central Libya in the strategic city of Sirte and nearby Jufra area.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Friday, Guterres called for implementation of “a comprehensive plan for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all mercenaries and foreign forces from Libya, with clear timelines.”

He also urged Libyan parties “to exert every effort to ensure” that parliamentary and presidential elections are held on Dec. 24 in accordance with the political road map that ended hostilities last year.

Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and split the country between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities loyal to commander Khalifa Hifter in the east. Each have been backed by different armed groups and foreign governments.

Hifter launched a military offensive in 2019 to capture the capital, a campaign backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France. But his march on Tripoli ultimately failed in June 2020 after Turkey sent troops to support the government, which also had the backing of Qatar and Italy.

Subsequent U.N.-sponsored peace talks brought about a cease-fire last October and installed an interim government that is expected to lead the country into December elections, but the Libyan parliament has so far failed to agree on a legal framework to hold elections.

Guterres cited initial differences over whether presidential elections should be carried out by direct voting or indirectly by the elected parliament, whether a referendum on the draft permanent constitution should be held first, and eligibility criteria for candidates including military personnel and dual citizens.

The U.N. chief urged the parties and institutions to clarify the constitutional basis for elections and to adopt the necessary electoral laws.

“The political process is now reaching a critical stage and the gains achieved in early 2021 are under threat,” Guterres warned. “It is imperative that the political process fulfills the aspirations of the Libyan people for representative governance brought about through democratic elections.”

In July, the U.N. special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, accused “spoilers” of trying to obstruct the holding of December’s crucial elections to unify the divided nation. He told the Security Council that many key players in Libya reiterated their commitment to the elections, but “I am afraid many of them are not ready to walk the talk.”

The Security Council has warned that any individual or group undermining the electoral process could face U.N. sanctions.

Guterres quoted Kubis’ warning that the continued presence of thousands of mercenaries and numerous foreign fighters remains a significant threat not only to the security of Libya but to the region.

The U.N. chief also warned that the presence and activities of violent extremist organizations including affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State “were reported in all regions, including in the form of direct threats against civilians and United Nations personnel and attacks against security forces.”

The 16-page report details ongoing human rights abuses by armed groups and units affiliated with the government, including killings, enforced disappearances and conflict-related sexual violence.

Guterres called for an end to those abuses and to “the continued arbitrary detention of migrants in inhumane conditions in formal detention centers and informal smuggler-operated sites.”

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