Libya “hell” as civil war turns into international freedom for all

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In the days after the NATO airstrikes helped oust the strongman Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya had hope.The night the news of Gaddafi’s death spread, people flooded the streets of Tripoli with tears of joy in their eyes, waving the country’s new flag and anticipating its new economic and democratic opportunities. Enthusiastic debates on the future of Libya filled the air.

After all, the international community, including Canada, had justified making war in order to protect civilians from what The UN Security Council has declared “May constitute crimes against humanity” and provide food and medicine.

Libya new leaders have called for “Forgiveness, tolerance and reconciliation. ”

Nine years later, there are very few. The UN seems helpless and civilians are suffering again. Some 350,000 have been displaced inside the country. Tens of thousands of people risk dangerous sea crossings to Europe, where they are barely tolerated if they do.

The civil war in Libya continues, transforming into international freedom for all.

“It’s a hell of a mess,” said Ahmed Dahmani, a 30-year-old engineer from Tripoli.

A member of the troops loyal to the GNA is pictured on July 6 with a sign of victory before heading towards Sirte, where troops of the two main Libyan factions have gathered. (Ayman Sahely / Reuters)

“Always afraid”

In 2011, he was with me in a dark meat rack in the city of Mizrata where Gaddafi’s body was on display, and where groups of Libyans lined up to see the fallen dictator and celebrate. At the time, Dahmani was excited.

“It will give us a future,” he told me.

Now, he and his family are facing power outages that last 16 hours a day, often have no running water, and are “still afraid” of shells landing in their neighborhood. Medical supplies are limited in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the NATO forces, including Canada and the United States, have long since abandoned Libya.

“The idea that we are there to protect civilians is no longer attractive,” said Emad Badi, an analyst with the Atlantic Council in Toronto, whose family also lives in Tripoli.

For him, Libya is a living example of how the world has become a less caring place, where interference and self-interest outweigh international cooperation.

Members of the Libyan National Army (LNA), commanded by General Khalifa Haftar, prepare before leaving Benghazi to reinforce the troops traveling to Tripoli, April 13, 2019. (Esam Omran Al-Fetori / Reuters)

“You no longer have this humanitarian that permeates foreign policy,” said Badi. “It’s more unforgiving, it’s more authoritarian, it’s even more xenophobic. “

NATO vacuum

In the vacuum left by NATO, his country has been torn apart by numerous groups seeking to control it: two main warring factions, dozens of tribal and regional warlords, and more than half a dozen powers foreign, some with thousands of mercenaries and troops on the ground.

For months, Tripoli has been besieged by rebel forces from General Khalifa Haftar, a rogue military commander who controls most of the country, including the main oil production and export facilities in the east.

A Turkish mining expert enters a house through a hole in the wall with a warning about the presence of mines in the Salah al-Din area, south of Tripoli, on June 15. Human Rights Watch accused pro-Haftar forces of planting Russian and Soviet-era landmines as they withdrew from the southern districts of Tripoli. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP via Getty Images)

Its self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) and its allies have prevented oil from leaving Libya since January, thus depriving the economy of some 1.5 billion US dollars each month.

The ANL is supported by Russia, with great strength of mercenaries hardened in combat fresh out of the Syrian conflict on the ground and advanced MIG jet fighters in the air over Libya.

Other countries are also involved. France helps diplomatically; the United Arab Emirates provides arms. Neighboring Egypt has threatened to invade Libya in support of Haftar.

They are all aligned against Libya’s so-called National Agreement Government (GNA) – the UN-recognized and Tripoli-based government.

The most powerful ally of the GNA is Turkey, which has sent his own contingent several thousand Syrian mercenaries, as well as armored drones and sophisticated air defense systems that helped repel the ANL forces from Tripoli.

Qatar also supports the government of Tripoli, as does Italy.

Broken ceasefire

Last month, two NATO allies – Turkey and France – almost hit off the coast of Libya, Paris accusing the Turkish navy of targeting a frigate which was trying to enforce the arms embargo imposed by the UN by inspecting a ship suspected of transporting Turkish arms to Libya.

A member of the security forces loyal to the GNA points out what the government says is a mass in the town of Tarhouna, in Libya, on June 11. (Ismail Zitouny / Reuters)

This UN embargo has been largely overlooked, and the ceasefires promised by Russia and Turkey have been broken in Libya even though they were concluded at conferences in Europe.

None of the actors – not even the permanent members of the Security Council of the UN – seem to pay attention to the world body or to the complaints of the secretary general of the UN, António Guterres, “of foreign interference reaching levels without previous ”.

“This tells us a lot about the failings of the international system,” said Tim Eaton, senior researcher at London think-tank Chatham House.

When agreements are made and so easily broken, he said, “it really undermines the nature of any consensus.”

“It is only those who are engaged in military battles on the ground that count. ”

As for the United States, they have long lost interest in Libya. It has no significant military presence and little involvement in efforts to end the conflict.

Washington was traumatized by a attack on the American diplomatic complex in Benghazi in 2012, which killed four people in the United States, including the ambassador in Libya. Never re-engaging, he “diluted” his power and influence, said Eaton.

This is not enough for Mark Kersten, a researcher in international law at the University of Toronto’s Munk Center.

He said that the United States and even Canada, which has been largely silent on Libya since the NATO intervention, shared responsibility for “not having a coherent plan to ensure that [Libya] is democratizing “when they left.

“If you break it,” he said, “you certainly have a responsibility to help fix it. “

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