May 8, 2019 / 5:58 PM / 2 months ago

France seeks Libya ceasefire, migrant centre struck

TRIPOLI/PARIS (Reuters) - France’s President Emmanuel Macron called on Wednesday for a ceasefire in the month-long battle for Libya’s capital Tripoli after fighting hit a migrant detention centre overnight.

Smoke rises during a fight between members of the Libyan internationally recognised government forces and Eastern forces in Ain Zara, Tripoli, Libya May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ayman al-Sahili/Files

With foreign powers aghast at the latest flare-up in a nation that has been in chaos since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi, Macron met the internationally-recognised Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Paris.

“Noting that there is no military solution to the Libyan conflict ... the proposal was put forward to delimit a ceasefire line, under international supervision,” Macron’s office said in a statement afterwards, backing a U.N. peace plan and elections.

France has in the past been supportive of eastern Libyan forces commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched an assault on Serraj’s Tripoli base in early April under the banner of combating terrorism and restoring order.

With Haftar’s troops bogged down in southern outskirts, fighting has been raging through the night but slowing in the day as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began this week.

Overnight, there was shelling on a camp of pro-Serraj fighters, witnesses said. Shrapnel struck the roof of a nearby migrants’ detention centre in the eastern suburb of Tajoura.

Two people were injured by the strike near the detention facility holding 500 migrants and refugees, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement. It appealed for the release of 3,460 foreign detainees caught near the fighting.

Frightened migrants, who had come mainly from sub-Saharan African nations hoping to reach Europe by sea, pleaded for rescue.

“We have almost lost hope in our life,” one migrant at the centre told Reuters, declining to give his name.

“War here is too much. Please, we need help.”

HUNDREDS DEAD AND INJURED

The Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) charity said a hole was blown open in a hangar housing women, nearly hitting one infant. “How many more lives must be threatened before these vulnerable people are evacuated?”

The fighting has killed 443 people and injured another 2,110, with 60,000 forced to flee their homes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Showing the challenge of finding a political solution even if a ceasefire can be reached, Serraj told TV channel France24 that Haftar was attempting a power grab.

“Haftar and (his armed groups) only want to control power in Tripoli under the pretext of war on terrorism and militias,” he said, urging a “clearer stance” from Paris towards Haftar.

The conflict has threatened to disrupt OPEC member Libya’s oil shipments, fuel migration to Europe, and encourage jihadists to exploit the power vacuum as the administrations in east and west face off.

It has also frozen the U.N. peace plan and exposed divisions in Europe and the Gulf.

Haftar, a former general in Gaddafi’s army who later turned against him, enjoys the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. He also received military support from France which helped him take over the eastern city of Benghazi in 2017.

Serraj, whose supporters say Haftar is a would-be dictator in the same mould as Gaddafi, met Macron after visiting Germany and Italy.

The U.N. mission in Libya said it was deeply concerned about a sharp increase in kidnappings and arbitrary arrests during the Tripoli conflict, including the abduction of two Libyan TV journalists on May 2 whose fate remained unknown.

Additional reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Catherine Evans

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