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UN chief calls for an end to fighting in Libya on brief visit to Tripoli

Ban Ki-Moon called for the House of Representatives to represent all Libyans as he warned the country's future hangs in the balance
Ban Ki-Moon is greeted by Libyan delegates upon his arrival in Tripoli for a visit on 11 October (AFP)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made a surprise visit to Tripoli on Saturday urging all parties to end fighting and engage meaningfully in building an “inclusive” Libya.

Ban flew into the Libyan capital before moving onto Cairo to attend an aid conference with donors to fund the multibillion dollar reconstruction of the devastated Gaza Strip.

In Libya the UN chief said the country’s future hangs in the balance as violence intensifies between warring tribes, cities and militias. Political rivalry is also continuing between two rival parliaments – one popularly elected and based in the eastern town of Tobruk and the other a reconvened General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli.

“If violent confrontations do not cease immediately, if sustainable peace is not restored, prosperity and a better life will be a distant dream. This is what hangs in the balance today for the future of Libya,” he said.

Nearly 300,000 people have been displaced in Libya, according to the UN, as fighting continues to cause heavy casualties across the country. Over the weekend, at least 21 people were killed and more than 60 wounded in tribal clashes west of Tripoli.

Witnesses told AFP nationalist militia from the hill-town of Zintan attacked the neighbouring town of Kekla, which supports the Misratan-led alliance of Libya Dawn.

The Islamist-Misratan Libya Dawn fighters seized control of the capital in August after more than a month of fierce fighting with the Zintani militia at Tripoli International Airport, prompting an exodus of foreign embassy staff.

On Saturday, Ban urged all sides to engage with a dialogue process that had been recently initiated by the international body.

“I am here to support the process that was initiated in Ghadames. This dialogue will have be inclusive and representative of all Libyans,” he said.

“Libya needs one parliament that represents all Libyans.”

UN-brokered talks began in the southern city of Ghadames on 29 September and were hailed as a “positive” step in beginning a political process to bring unity to Libya. While the meeting did not take in representatives from the warring militias, it is hoped that Misratan parliamentarians who did attend, may open space for dialogue between Tripoli and Tobruk.

Ban reinforced support for the legitimacy of the June elected House of Representatives (HoR) and called on all Libyans to respect the Tobruk-based body. The parliament has struggled to impose its authority from Tobruk, where it moved from Benghazi after fighting forced parliamentarians to seek sanctuary further east.

The UN chief, however, warned the HoR that it must do more if it is to be an effective governing body.

“Legitimacy has to come with inclusion. This inclusion entails rules of procedure based on consensus for the most important decisions, as in any parliament, in any democracy, in the world.”

Ban called on “all groups to stop fighting” and said “attacks in Benghazi by [retired rogue] General [Khalifa]Haftar and his forces need to stop, as well as actions by Ansar al-Sharia and other groups.”

Haftar returned to Libya in 2011 after more than 20 years exile in the US, where he fled after being outcast by the country’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi. Upon his return he helped to led rebel forces in the uprising that ended with the killing of the country’s long-time leader, but in May this year Haftar returned to the scene to launch his self-named Operation Dignity, which he says is aimed at ridding Libya of “terrorists”. Ansar al-Sharia are a key target of his operation, a US-designated terror group blamed for the 2012 killing of American ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

As well as urging an end to civil war in Libya, Ban cautioned that military intervention will not solve the problem.

“No military intervention will help to resolve the outstanding problems in Libya,” he said.

The UAE and Egypt were accused of carrying out airstrikes against Misrata linked targets in Tripoli during August, by four unnamed US officials who spoke to the New York Times. Abu Dhabi and Cairo both denied the allegations but “mystery jets” have continued to hit Libya Dawn forces in the capital.