UN envoy says Libya truce nearly broke down amid fighting

People carry a giant Libyan flag at the Martyr square during a march commemorating the anniversary of anti-Gadhafi protests in Tripoli, Libya, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Libya on Friday denounced the near breakdown of a fragile truce between the country’s warring sides, citing a “serious violation” over the last 24 hours — attacks on the capital including an early morning shelling of Tripoli’s airport.

Ghassan Salame, hosting diplomatic talks in Geneva, also exposed a rift within delegations representing Libya's internationally recognized government in Tripoli and the eastern-based government allied with ex-general Khalifa Hifter.

Salame has been mediating three-tiered talks on economic, political and military tracks since an agreement to launch them last month, hoping to end violence and troubles in Libya since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

“The country, in the past 24 hours, has witnessed a very serious violation of the truce,” Salame told reporters after political talks at United Nations offices. “In fact, it could have been almost the breakdown of that truce.”

Salame said “many areas” of the capital were shelled. “It is clear that neither one of the three tracks can move positively, when the cannon is doing what it is doing right now.”

In April, Hifter’s forces, which control much of the east, launched an offensive to wrest control of the capital from the U.N.-backed government. The march on Tripoli resulted in a military stalemate and hundreds of civilian casualties.

Earlier on Friday, a senior health official in the Tripoli-based government told The Associated Press that Hifter's forces had shelled the capital with at least 40 rockets since dawn.

Some rockets hit Mitiga airport, sparking a fire that forced authorities to close the city's only functioning airport, said Amin al-Hashemi, the Health Ministry spokesman. He said the shelling brought down several houses that had been evacuated earlier.

The shelling of the capital comes against the backdrop of strained U.N.-mediated political talks in Geneva that kicked off earlier this week. Salame said he was planning to continue talks next month, nevertheless.

He said Khaled al-Meshri, speaker of the High State Council, the Tripoli-based parliament, first called for a delay in political talks that started this week, then a boycott of them.

“The speaker of the house of the High State Council has asked for a (delay) of the talks, but everybody was here, and I thought his request came too late for that,” he said.

The council speaker also added “new conditions” on the talks, Salame said, decrying the “procrastination of the cynics.”

Salame complained that six of the 13-member delegation representing the east-based parliament, known as the House of Representatives, withdrew from the talks.

“Those who left were from both sides,” he said.

Power in Libya is divided between two rival governments, one each in the east and west of the country, and a patchwork of armed groups that support either administration.

Hifter's army, the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, has the backing of countries like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia, while the government in Tripoli has the support of Turkey and Italy.


Associated Press writer Noha ElHennawy in Cairo contributed to this report.