Fragile ceasefire in Tripoli while chaos persists

The closed airport in Tripoli, 4 September.

The violence and chaos, which persist in Libya since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, escalated in the last week as the UN backed government failed to control the rival militias. Meanwhile, some EU members entered in a rhetoric clash over the origin of the crisis.

A ceasefire has been signed between armed factions, the UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said on Tuesday, after more than a week of fighting inside Tripoli and dozens of deaths. But it was not clear how it would be implemented as militias have ignored previous calls by the Tripoli-based government to lay down arms, news wires reported.

There is no police or army, or functioning state to enforce peace in this country, ruled by armed groups who defy authority and form flexible alliances. Tripoli is formally controlled by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord, but armed groups working with it act with autonomy. Eastern Libya is controlled by a rival administration. The recent fighting had started because armed groups outside Tripoli had opposed a cartel of four “super militias” controlling access to state funds and foreign currency at huge discount from the central bank. The deadly clashes between rival militias cast further doubt on planned December elections brokered by Paris. The continued bloodshed is of major concern to Italy, which relies on authority in Tripoli to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Rome also regards with suspicion the French mediating role in the Libyan crisis. “My fear is that someone, for economic motives and selfish national interest, is putting at risk the security of North Africa and, as a result, of Europe as a whole,” Italy's deputy PM Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant League party, told reporters in Rome last Monday. “I'm thinking of someone who waged a war that shouldn't have been waged; someone who set election dates without discussing this with allies, with the UN or indeed with the Libyan people,” he added, referring to French military and diplomatic forays into Libyan affairs under presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Emmanuel Macron.

At a second Paris summit in May of this year, Macron got Libyan rivals General Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control Libya's north-eastern coast, and UN-backed PM Fayez al-Sarraj to agree his plan for nationwide elections in December, a prospect many analysts, and the Italian government, say is likely to do more damage than good. Following a trip to Tripoli in July, Italy's Defence Minister Trenta, a member of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, said an acceleration of the electoral process could not bring stability. Still, French first diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian toured several Libyan cities over the summer to drum up support for the December polls. On Facebook last week, Trenta again fired on France over the Libya's crisis. “It is clearly now undeniable that this country (Libya) finds itself in this situation because someone, in 2011, put their own interests ahead of those of the Libyan people and of Europe itself,” she wrote.

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