Geneva, Switzerland – Libya’s foreign minister, Mohammed Syala, on Monday accused the international community of remaining silent over the country’s oil blockade in order to avoid a drop in oil prices, calling the move “inhuman”.
Libya’s economy is on its knees after renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar blocked the country’s eastern oil ports and fields on January 18 in an attempt to cut financial revenues to the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) which sits in the capital, Tripoli.
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“We are astonished at the international community’s inaction with regard to the oil blockade. They have intervened before, why they don’t do it now?” said Syala, addressing media at the United Nations in Geneva.
“They [the international community] don’t want one million barrels of [Libyan] oil to bring down prices now that international demand is low. If this is the reason, it’s inhuman.”
Libya relies on crude oil exports for 98 percent of its national income. But last month, militias loyal to the Benghazi-based Haftar blockaded the oil ports in an attempt to push the GNA – led by Fayez Serraj – to relinquish its power over Tripoli. The capital has been under siege by Haftar’s forces since April 2019.
Haftar tried to seize oil ports in 2018, but international condemnation was swift at the time, as Benghazi’s institutions have no legal authority according to UN Security Council resolutions. The result was an immediate shutdown of oil sales from eastern Libya.
Syala spoke on the sidelines of the opening session of the Human Rights Council, where the president of the GNA, Fayez al-Sarraj, delivered a speech on Monday accusing the international community of turning a blind eye to the human rights violations taking place in Libya at the hands of Haftar’s Libya National Army and allied militias.
Holding pictures of students and a parliamentarian killed in Benghazi, al-Sarraj said the population in the east of the country, controlled by Haftar, was hostage to a dictatorial regime.
Political, military talks in limbo
GNA representatives in Geneva last week abandoned military talks aimed at establishing a ceasefire between the two sides after forces loyal to Haftar bombed Tripoli’s port and Mitiga airport, killing three people and almost hitting a highly explosive gas tanker.
On Monday, the UN mission in Libya, UNSMIL, issued a statement saying that the two sides had reached a draft ceasefire agreement “to facilitate the safe return of civilians to their areas with the implementation of a joint monitoring mechanism under the auspices of UNSMIL and the Joint Military Commission.
“The two parties agreed to present the draft agreement to their respective leaderships for further consultations and to meet again next month.
It was not clear whether political talks slated to start in the Swiss city on Wednesday will take place – but Syala said the GNA had not yet received an invitation to participate.
Haftar is 15 kilometres (9 miles) away from the centre of the capital, and some neighbourhoods have already been completely destroyed
UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame has renewed efforts to bring the two sides together for military, political and economic talks since the UN Security Council passed a resolution on February 12 asking for a lasting ceasefire.
“The GNA is ready to continue talks in earnest under the UN resolutions, however, we appeal to the international community to do its part to address this proxy war,” said al-Sarraj, addressing diplomats in Geneva on Monday.
Al-Sarraj criticised attempts to equate Haftar, who he called a war criminal, to the militias defending Tripoli in the siege.
“We have asked for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, and to establish a mechanism to implement international humanitarian law,” he said. “This doesn’t mean comparing the aggressors to those who defend themselves, their family and the democratic state.”
A summit in Berlin in January called upon the two sides to withdraw from their positions in order to establish a permanent ceasefire that would allow the beginning of political talks.
However, Foreign Minister Syala said on Monday the GNA did not see the need for its forces to withdraw.
“They are there to defend Tripoli,” he said. “Haftar is 15 kilometres (9 miles) away from the centre of the capital, and some neighbourhoods have already been completely destroyed.”
Meanwhile, Haftar has declared he would be ready for a ceasefire – if Turkish and Syrian “mercenaries” left the country and Ankara stopped supplying weapons to Libya’s GNA.
Syala said Tripoli was ready to abide by the arms embargo, but also admitted that the Turkish presence was restoring “balance” in the long-running battle with Haftar. Answering questions on the presence of Syrian fighters in Tripoli, Libya’s foreign minister said forces on the ground “carried Turkish passports”.
Turkey backs the internationally recognised government in Tripoli, while Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and other countries.
A decision by Turkey last month to send troops and weapons to Tripoli has polarised positions in Libya as well as Europe, with the bloc divided over its support for the GNA and fears that Turkey may seek territorial and economic advantages in Libya.
Libya has remained in turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising led to the ousting of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi after four decades in power.