Both sides in the Libyan conflict have voiced their agreement on the need for a verifiable ceasefire, the United Nations special envoy for the crisis said today, but challenges remain on how to link that with a political process that addresses the main causes of the fighting.
“The main difficulty at this stage is getting all sides to agree on the essential elements of a political process that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people,” Abdel Elah al-Khatib told the Security Council as he briefed the 15-member body on his recent visits to the country.
Mr. al-Khatib said that during meetings last month in the capital, Tripoli, and the rebel-held city of Benghazi, both the Libyan authorities and the opposition Transitional National Council informed him that they were ready and willing to implement a ceasefire, provided that the other party does the same.
“However, for the Libyan authorities, a ceasefire must be accompanied by an end to the attacks by NATO in order to pave the road for national dialogue,” he said. “They have told me that if NATO attacks stop, the Libyan Government would be in a position to hold discussions about elections, democracy and constitutional reform.”
The Libyan authorities also told him that the way out of this impasse was to determine a specific date and time for a ceasefire under the supervision of impartial monitors, at which time the indiscriminate bombings against the military and the civilians must simultaneously stop.
Government officials also agreed that the UN should coordinate an international monitoring mechanism for the ceasefire in close collaboration with the African Union, he noted.
The TNC, on the other hand, indicated to him that a ceasefire was not sufficient to end the conflict in Libya if it is not directly linked to the departure of Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi and his family.
Mr. al-Khatib emphasized to both parties that a real and verifiable ceasefire should be part of wider measures, including lifting the siege on all cities, withdrawing the military forces from all cities, allowing immediate humanitarian access, releasing all detainees, resuming the provision of basic services and securing the passage of foreign workers stranded in these cities.
“A real and credible ceasefire must be agreed upon to suspend aggressive actions and killings of innocent civilians, including women and children. A ceasefire must be declared either formally or in a first step as part of an informal understanding between the opposing forces in Libya,” he told the Council.
He also noted that the fighting has continued to intensify in the western city of Misrata, Libya’s third largest city and the main gateway before reaching the capital. Despite Mr. Qadhafi’s televised statement on 30 April that he was ready for a ceasefire and negotiations – provided that NATO stop its planes – Tripoli declared a sea blockade on the besieged city.
More than 665,000 people have now fled the country since the beginning of the conflict, which started out in February as protests against the Qadhafi regime, with 39,000 crossing into Tunisia to date and more than 21,500 since 21 April, he noted.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that the exodus from Libya’s Western Mountains region into Tunisia has resumed after a brief interruption last week caused by skirmishes between Libyan Government and opposition forces.
This past weekend, more than 8,000 people, most of them ethnic Berbers, arrived in Dehiba in southern Tunisia, according to the agency’s spokesperson, Adrian Edwards.
“Most of the Libyan refugees are leaving Libya in tribal groups. Many are choosing to stay in the camps for a few days before moving on to stay with Tunisian families,” he told reporters in Geneva.
UNHCR and other UN agencies are planning to distribute food and other aid to the refugees and their host families.
Meanwhile, more people have been fleeing Libya by sea to Italy, after a 10-day break due to bad weather, the agency reported. Some 3,200 people have arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa over the past five days, most of them originating from sub-Saharan Africa.
This brings to over 8,100 the total number of arrivals in Italy from Libya since March 26. Another 1,132 people have arrived in Malta on boats from Libya in mid-April.
In a related development, the International Commission of Inquiry established to investigate alleged human rights violations in Libya concluded its field visits to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
During the three-week visit, the team held meetings with a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including government officials, non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and bodies.
It also conducted interviews with victims and witnesses, medical and other professionals, legal and military experts, authorities and other sources of reliable information relevant to its mandate, within and outside Libya, including in camps and locations located along the Egyptian and Tunisian borders.
The three-member team – led by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian jurist and war crimes expert who has previously served as a UN rapporteur – will submit its report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council at its next session in June.