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UN Security Council, G7 Demand Haftar Forces Halt Military Advance In Libya

The UN Security Council has called on Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar to halt his forces' drive toward the capital.
The UN Security Council has called on Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar to halt his forces' drive toward the capital.

The United Nations Security Council has called on Libyan army commander Khalifa Haftar to halt his forces' advance toward Tripoli, which is under the control of a UN-backed government.

After an emergency meeting on April 5, the council warned that the military activity of Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) was putting the country’s stability at risk.

German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who currently holds the Security Council presidency, told reporters following the closed-door session that the council "called on LNA forces to halt all military movements."

The council said it would hold accountable those responsible for any further violence.

The council’s statement came hours after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Haftar in Benghazi as part of efforts to forestall an outright assault on Tripoli and avoid a bloody civil war.

"I leave Libya with a heavy heart and deeply concerned. I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli," he said on Twitter after his meeting.

Before the meeting, he tweeted: "My aim remains the same: avoid a military confrontation. I reiterate that there is no military solution for the Libyan crisis, only a political one."

Guterres has also been in Tripoli this week to help organize a national reconciliation conference planned for later in April -- a plan that looks increasingly unlikely with every day of continued fighting.

'Deepest Concern'

Earlier, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations interrupted a meeting in France to express their "deepest concern" about the renewed fighting and urged an immediate end to military activity.

"We urge all involved parties to immediately halt all military activity and movements toward Tripoli, which are hindering prospects for the UN-led political process, putting civilians in danger, and prolonging the suffering of the Libyan people," a statement said

Russia, which has provided Haftar with backing in the past, said it was not helping the commander’s forces in the offensive and that it supported a negotiated political settlement that ruled out any new bloodshed.

Haftar’s LNA on April 4 launched the offensive aimed at taking the capital.

Reuters and other news agencies said Haftar’s forces took the town of Gharyan, about 80 kilometers south of Tripoli after fighting aganst forces allied with Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, who is based in Tripoli.

Tripoli-allied forces also reportedly took dozens of soldiers from Haftar’s units prisoner in a town west of the capital.

Late on April 5, area residents said fighting was going on near the former international airport outside Tripoli and that the LNA had taken control of the facility. The Tripoli-based interior minister, Fathi Ali Bashagha, later said central government forces had retaken the airport.

'Calls For Crusades'

The advance by Haftar's LNA was a sharp escalation of the power struggle that has gone on since longtime Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown in 2011.

Haftar is supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), which are worried about the threat of Islamic militants.

In 2014, he assembled former Qaddafi soldiers and in a three-year battle seized the main eastern city of Benghazi. He captured the south with its crucial oilfields in recent months.

Haftar traveled to Moscow twice in 2016 seeking political support. The Financial Times has reported that Russia has helped the administration Haftar has set up in eastern Libya issue a parallel currency, a pointed challenge to the Tripoli-based central government.

The Kremlin was reportedly incensed by U.S. and European actions that led to Qaddafi’s ouster, and sent the country spiraling into chaos. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2011 when he was serving a term as prime minister that a UN resolution allowing airstrikes by NATO forces was like a "medieval calls for crusades."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told news agencies on April 5 that Moscow was monitoring the situation.

The U.S. State Department also sounded the alarm about the new fighting.

"At this sensitive moment in Libya's transition, military posturing and threats of unilateral action only risk propelling Libya back toward chaos," the department said in a statement issued jointly with France, Italy, Britain, and the United Arab Emirates.

The U.A.E. added its name to the statement even though it has supported Haftar.

With reporting by Reuters, Financial Times, AFP, and dpa