Senior military officers from both sides of Libya’s escalating conflict are in Geneva this week to try to negotiate a “permanent and lasting” ceasefire, the UN’s envoy to the country said Tuesday.
Ghassan Salamé told reporters he believed there was a “genuine will to start negotiating” between the sides represented in Switzerland, comprised of 10 high-ranking military officials: five from the internationally recognised Government of National Accord, and five from General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
The two rivals for power, and the militias that back them, have been fighting in and around the capital, Tripoli, for 10 months, forcing 149,000 people to flee their homes.
Migrants and refugees in detention centres have also been put in harm’s way – a July airstrike at one facility killed 53 people, and the UN recently said an estimated 2,000 migrant detainees are “exposed, or in close proximity, to the fighting in and around Tripoli”.
There are more than 630,000 migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Libya. Some have come to work, but others are hoping to pass through the country on their way to Europe. While in Libya, many migrants are trafficked, extorted, and abused by people-smugglers or other militant groups.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, announced last week it was suspending work at Tripoli’s Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) – a flagship centre intended as a waystation for refugees on their way out of the country that had become overcrowded and unsanitary.
UNHCR said in a statement that it feared “the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians”.
Efforts to secure a lasting truce in Libya have so far proved unsuccessful and the two sides did not meet face to face on Monday.
Salamé said he hoped the Geneva talks – expected to last one week – will help “bridge the gaps in their views on how the lasting, sustainable ceasefire can be organised on the ground”.
Libya has been torn apart by civil war since the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. Parts of the country were occupied by so-called Islamic State and have found it difficult to rebuild. Competition for power and resources has left much of Libya lawless and dangerous.