UN removes dozens of staff from Libya

Mission says the “temporary” measure taken for safety of its staff will be reviewed once security conditions improve.

The security situation in Libya has deteriorated sharply in recent months [AFP]

The United Nations has removed dozens of staff from Libya amid deteriorating security conditions in the strife-torn country.

Samir Ghattas, a spokesperson for the UN Support Mission in Libya, told Al Jazeera that “several dozen” of the mission’s more than 200 personnel were being temporarily relocated, although he would not provide a specific number.

“The mission will continue to operate with a reduced number,” Ghattas said, noting the removal, ordered this week, was continuing to take effect on Thursday.

“The reduction in presence is due to the prevailing security conditions in the country,” he said. “It was taken solely out of concerns for the safety and security of the staff and after a careful consideration of the security situation on the ground in the past few months.”

Libya has been gripped by instability since the toppling of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, but the security situation has sharply deteriorated in recent months.

Former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was ousted in March after a no-confidence vote, and fierce fighting has flared in the eastern city of Benghazi between Libyan armed groups and forces loyal to a rogue army general.

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The murder last month of prominent human-rights activist Salwa Bugaighis drew international condemnation and further inflamed tensions in the North African country.

Magda Mughrabi, a Libya researcher with Amnesty International, also pointed to a recent escalation in attacks against foreign nationals in Libya, including assassinations, arbitrary detentions and abductions.

“The authorities’ failure to investigate crimes has contributed to an overall atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity that has made it increasingly difficult for activists, including aid workers, to operate in the country,” Mughrabi told Al Jazeera. 

Ghattas said the reduction in UN personnel would impact the support mission’s operations in Libya, but staff would continue to be available to provide advice and assistance to residents.

“The measure is temporary and will be reviewed as soon as the security situation improves,” he said.

Representatives for Libya’s interior and information ministries did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment on Thursday.

Fiona Mangan, a Libya expert with the United States Institute of Peace’s Governance Law and Society Center, said while it did not appear that UN buildings in Libya were deliberately targeted, they had been caught in the crossfire.

“[The violence] has moved a little bit closer to home,” she told Al Jazeera, noting clashes had intensified near the UN complex in western Tripoli, where buildings had been struck by gunfire. 

While there have long been violent outbursts in the area, Mangan said: “In the last few days and the last week, they have been more serious… It may have been sort of the last straw.”