Factional warfare in Libya is pushing it “very close to the point of no return”, the UN special envoy to the country has said as efforts to bring about a ceasefire and political dialogue bear little progress.
“I think this country is running out of time. The danger for the country is that in the past weeks we are getting very close to the point of no return,” Bernadino Leon told reporters on Tuesday.
Leon launched an initiative to bring together the warring sides for a dialogue and ceasefire last month, but fighting worsened in the past two weeks in Benghazi as well as in western Libya.
The death toll from two weeks of street fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist armed groups in the eastern city of Benghazi has risen to 170, medics said. Seven people were killed on Tuesday, and 15 on Monday.
The North African country has had two governments and parliaments since a militia group from the western city of Misrata seized the capital Tripoli in August, setting up its own cabinet and assembly.
The internationally recognised government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni had to move 1,000km to the east where the elected House of Representatives is also now working, effectively splitting the desert nation.
UN-brokered talks suffer from the absence of armed factions from Misrata or a rival militia from the western city of Zintan that battled Misrata forces in Tripoli for more than a month over the summer before being forced out of the capital.
The situation in Tripoli has been worsened by a separate conflict between pro-government forces and Islamist brigades in Benghazi, the main city in the east.
Clashes could be heard in Benghazi’s Benina suburb near the airport, an area the army had last week declared “liberated” from Ansar al-Sharia, blamed by Washington for a 2012 attack on the former US consulate that killed the American ambassador.
There was also fighting in western parts of the major Mediterranean port city where banks and many shops have been closed since army units loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar launched an anti-Islamist offensive and imposed a curfew.
Western powers worry that the country is heading towards civil war as authorities are too weak to control former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority to grab power and a share of oil revenues.