Fighting In Libya Intensifies Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic


Latest Developments

This week, the brutal civil war in Libya intensified as the Libyan National Army (LNA) defied the UN’s plea for a ceasefire. The LNA claimed to have seized control of several towns in the north-west of Libya. The offensive comes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and both the LNA and the UN-backed Government of National Accord see an opportunity to advance their respective campaigns. With the eyes of the world temporarily averted from Libya’s domestic issues, the LNA has moved decisively to gain the upper-hand in a conflict that has already claimed thousands of lives. 

Reactions From The International Community

The United Nations expressed concern about “the significant escalation of hostilities on the ground in Libya”. This statement follows the UN’s plea last week calling for a “global ceasefire” in order to tackle the “common enemy”. Despite this, fighting has only intensified in the war-torn country, which has led many UN delegates to question its capacity to deal with the spread of COVID-19. Libya’s first case was reported earlier this week and there are fears that the ceaseless conflict will fuel the spread of the disease in the country.

These fears were articulated by Jonathan Allen, the senior UK diplomat at the UN, who stated that it was “next to impossible for the brave doctors and medical professionals in Libya to do what they need to do to save people”. This sentiment was echoed by Kelly Knight Craft, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who said that “continued conflict threatens to fuel the spread of COVID-19”, adding that a cessation of hostilities was essential in order to “improve the ability of health authorities to combat this global pandemic”.

Origins Of The Crisis And Ensuing Diplomatic Efforts

Libya has been in a perpetual state of political turmoil since Muammar Gadaffi, the country’s deposed leader, was killed back in 2011. In 2014, the House of Representatives, which is allied with the LNA, was democratically elected amidst violence and low turnout. Consequently, the new government lacked legitimacy, leading to the establishment of the UN-backed Government of National Accord. Since then, these two groups and other, smaller factions, have been embroiled in a bloody civil war that shows no signs of relenting. This is in spite of the UN’s continued peace-making efforts which are yet to bear fruit.

Peace-making efforts have been hampered by interference from the UAE, Russia and Turkey, who continue to arm both factions despite an arms embargo being implemented, albeit not well enforced, by the UN. This recently led to UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salamé quitting his role as a peacemaker in the conflict. The UN’s inefficiency in enforcing the arms embargo, coupled with their inability to bring about peace in the country, throws their legitimacy as a mediator into question. 

Conclusion

The LNA’s decision to mount an offensive amidst a pandemic is clearly an opportunistic move which threatens to inflict more misery on a country that has already been blighted by war. Whilst many nation states and political institutions are focused on fighting disease, it is up to the leaders of all Libyan factions to lay down their arms in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The tensions between the factions must be resolved through dialogue, not bloodshed and failing this, many Libyans are at risk of succumbing not only to war, but also disease. 

 

Luke Entwistle