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World at threat if Libya's war is left to rage, Libyan MP warns

In an interview with MEE, Aymen Seifennaser says all parties agree the conflict must end, but they disagree on the details of how to do it
Aymen Seifennaser, a member of the Libyan House of Representatives, in London (MEE)
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Libya's civil war must be put to an end or the country will descend into a chaos that would affect stability in Europe and neighbouring countries, Libyan MP Aymen Seifennaser told Middle East Eye on Thursday.

Seifennaser, a member of Libya's House of Representatives and supporter of the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli, spoke to MEE in London, where he was meeting British officials in an effort to raise awareness and support for his beleaguered country's situation.

The MP has frequently expressed his opinion that a political solution in Libya “won’t come from overseas” but from Libyans themselves.

However, he was keen to stress that avoiding Libya's further collapse was in the interests, and the responsibility, of the international community at large.

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Currently, commander Khalifa Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) is waging a military offensive to capture the region around the capital Tripoli, known historically as Tripolitania, where 3.5 million live, representing almost 60 percent of Libya’s population.

Asked if the Libyan capital would fall to the LNA, which has become bogged down since launching an offensive in early April, Seifennaser said facts on the ground disqualify such a scenario.

“But there would be more casualties and injured people [if Haftar’s troops entered more towns around Tripoli]," he said. "The war has exceeded 80 days, and the number of people killed has reached 700, with 4,000 wounded.”

The LNA is supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, while Turkey and Qatar are backing the Tripoli-based GNA and its forces.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that Ankara has been selling arms and military equipment to the GNA in an attempt to balance the conflict.

The LNA has so far failed to capture Tripoli, and the GNA's forces on the captial's outskirts have successfully slowed Haftar's advance.

'Our Arab brethren have different responsibilities to the Europeans. They all agree that the war needs an end, but the disagreement is on the details of how to end it'

- Aymen Seifennaser

United Nations envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame warned in May that the battle for Tripoli is "just the start of a long and bloody war", and called for an immediate halt to arms shipments to all parties involved in the conflict.

Libya has been under a UN Security Council arms embargo since 2011, when the conflict that removed longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi broke out.

Seifennaser, an orthopaedic surgeon turned politician, was elected as an MP in 2014 and was part of a team that drafted the Skhirat Agreement of 2015, which led to the forming of the GNA, though most of the agreement’s terms remain dry ink on paper.

Seifennaser told MEE that prolonging the Libyan conflict would mean that thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers would flock to the country as “a departure point”, before attempting to make the perilous journey to Europe's shores.

In 2018 alone, the UN counted 2,275 people who died or went missing while attempting to reach the northern coast of the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, 139,300 refugees and migrants made it to Europe in the last five years, according to the United Nations.

“It’s a tragedy,” Seifennaser said. “Not all of them cross from Libya, and most of them fled countries that were controlled by colonialism that left these countries to be governed by dictatorships."

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"The trade of smuggling starts not in Libya but in third countries [in Africa and Asia],” he added.

According to the MP, the last year saw a decrease in numbers of refugees attempting to cross to Europe from Libya, without specifying a figure, following a collaboration with European authorities, mainly Italy.

Seifennaser told MEE that regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, Germany and Italy need to have a role in bringing the “international conflict” to its end in Libya.

“Our Arab brethren have different responsibilities to the Europeans. They all agree that the war needs an end, but the disagreement is on the details of how to end it,” he said.

The UN said in May that the fighting around Tripoli shows no sign of stopping, and warned that the risk of people being caught up in the ongoing clashes is increasing.

'We represent all Libyans and do not call for a war in Libya'

Aymen Seifennaser

Seifennaser said as MPs in the eastern-based House of Representatives, he and his colleagues are not seeking to undermine Haftar and his supporters, whom the lawmaker called "brothers".

Rather, "we represent all Libyans and do not call for a war in Libya. We want people to have loyalty to the homeland, to Libya, not to any of the parties.”

In recent months Libya's political and military situation has been muddied further by foreign interventions.

The US and other western powers, for example, officially back Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's GNA, but his administration has accused them, especially France, of covertly backing Haftar.

Last month, after Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Haftar, the White House said in a statement that the US president "recognised Field Marshall Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources".