Wednesday,24 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)
Wednesday,24 April, 2019
Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

UN moves to stem Libya militia violence

The recent outbreak of conflict among militias in Tripoli has thrown into question security understandings embedded in efforts to resolve the Libyan national crisis, writes Kamel Abdallah

UN moves  to stem Libya militia violence
UN moves to stem Libya militia violence

On Sunday, against the backdrop of militia warfare that flared 26 August in the southern districts of Tripoli, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for an urgent dialogue on the current security situation in Tripoli and invited all concerned parties to an expanded meeting Tuesday (4 September) at noon. Al-Ahram Weekly was unable to learn the results of that meeting by time of writing.

The most violent clashes to strike the capital in four years have claimed dozens of dead and wounded and caused considerable material damage while international powers remained on the sidelines, reiterating statements condemning militia groups for disrupting the security of the capital and cautioning militia leaders that they will be brought to account.

Also, on Sunday, the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) declared a state of emergency in the capital and its outskirts, and created a committee to oversee the implementation of security measures outlined in the  Libyan Political Agreement signed between the participants of the UN-sponsored Libyan Dialogue in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015.

The conflict erupted in the southern outskirts of Tripoli nearly two weeks ago between the Tripoli Cartel and the 7th Infantry Brigade, more popularly known as the Kaniyat Brigade, which is based in Tarhuna, 88 kilometres southeast of Tripoli. The fighting has left at least 40 dead and 200 wounded and driven over 1,800 families from their homes, according to medical authorities in Tripoli.

The Tripoli Cartel, which has exercised political, military and economic control over the Libyan capital during the past three years, consists of four major militia groups: the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), a Salafi-oriented militia under the command of Abdel-Raouf Kara and based in Mitiga Airport; the Abu Slim unit of the Central Security Apparatus led by Abdel-Ghani Al-Kikli, AKA “Ghaniwa”, which is based in the densely populated Abu Slim district of the capital; the Nawasi Battalion, which is headed by members of the Qaddur clan; and the Tripoli Revolutionaries Battalion (TRB), which is commanded by Haitham Al-Tajuri, a minor police officer who rose to prominence during the past three years as a major player in the capital.

The cartel has dominated the capital since the Presidency Council moved there in March 2016. It received support from Western embassies which felt it necessary to support militia groups that backed the still contentious Skhirat agreement in the hope that this would help undermine the opponents to that internationally-backed accord and its outputs.

The Tarhuna-based 7th Infantry Brigade, AKA the Kaniyat Brigade because of its affiliation with members of the Kani clan in Tarhuna, was created in 2013 following clashes with gunmen who killed a member of the Kani family. The originally small militia has since expanded as it developed good relations with diverse parties in the city and contributed to the support and provision of services to the citizenry there. It also helped broker the reconciliation in Tarhuna between local affiliates with the former Gaddafi regime and local supporters of the 17 February Revolution. In July 2017, the Defense Ministry under the GNA moved to include the militia group in the Libyan army, calling it the 7th Brigade. However, less than a year later, on 20 April 2018, the Chairman of the Presidency Council Fayez Al-Sarraj, dissolved the brigade in accordance with a decree that only came to light after the recent outbreak in violence in the southern suburbs of Tripoli.

The confrontation between militia groups in the southern suburbs, a facet of the ongoing political stalemate, occurred soon after UNSMIL lashed out at the Tripoli-based militias for threatening and obstructing the work of government institutions. In a statement 19 August, the UN organisation expressed its “strong condemnation of the violence, intimidation and obstruction to the work of Libya’s sovereign institutions by militiamen”. It continued: “Members of brigades nominally acting under the Ministry of Interior of the Government of National Accord are attacking sovereign institutions and preventing them from being able to operate effectively. Interference with sovereign institutions and with Libya’s national wealth is a grave matter and must stop immediately.” Libyan sources believe that the US diplomat Stephanie Williams, the UN deputy special representative for political affairs in Libya, drafted the statement and that the cartel’s practices have generated a climate conducive to action against it.

Statements issued by diplomatic missions to Libya suggest that they are indifferent to the current situation in the capital and the possibility that the fight might spread. This was particularly evident in the statement posted by the US embassy on its Twitter account last week in which it offered condolences to the families of those who were killed in the clashes and wished the wounded a speedy recovery. Many Libyans read this as a green light from the international community for continued combat.

By Monday, efforts on the part of influential figures from around the country and UNSMIL failed to broker a truce between the cartel and the 7th Brigade. It was noticed that no representative from the internationally recognised government was present among the mediators who once or twice announced a truce at nightfall only for it to collapse by daylight the following day.

The Presidency Council headed by Al-Sarraj was unable to contain the situation. Both the commander of the Western Military Zone, General Osama Al-Jweili, and the commander of the Central Zone, Mohamed Al-Haddad, refused to obey Al-Sarraj’s orders to intervene to separate the fighting groups. Al-Sarraj was therefore forced to entrust the counterterrorist force commanded by Brigadier General Mohamed Al-Zein with the mission that many fear will complicate and aggravate the situation.

The 7th Brigade insists that all militia groups must withdraw from Tripoli and that the official armed forces and police should undertake all policing and security responsibilities. While officials from this brigade announced progress in their march, their adversaries in the cartel claim that they are holding their positions under the assault.

According to Libyan sources, militia fighting in the southern suburbs of Tripoli is part of a drive to prepare the capital for new Western-sponsored security arrangements. As evidence, they point to ongoing disputes between major Western capitals over the situation in Libya and to ambiguous statements issued by their embassies.

The sources also mentioned that UNSMIL is preparing to revive the political, economic and security tracks of Libyan Dialogue in tandem with efforts to promote tangible progress towards the conclusion of a political settlement that is believed necessary before holding parliamentary elections. They added that the deputy head of UNSMIL, Stephanie Williams, has been especially focused on the economic and security tracks, and that the UN will probably reveal a new vision for handling the security situation in Libya, and in Tripoli in particular, very soon. Part of this vision entails conducting a dialogue with the leaders of all militia groups within the framework of the security dialogue that has been stalled since 2015. According to the sources, UN Special Representative to Libya Ghassan Salame will unveil the new plans in his next briefing to the Security Council in mid-September.

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