ISIS taking advantage of Libya's porous borders, says UN

With attention focused on Tripoli, people smugglers are thriving in southern border areas

U.N. Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame speaks during an interview with Reuters ahead of the first day of the international conference on Libya, in Palermo, Italy, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
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The security situation in southern Libya is deteriorating fast, with ISIS harassing citizens while the country's oil wealth and water infrastructure falls apart, the United Nations special envoy to the country said on Friday.

Ghassam Salame's comments follow his trip to Sabha, the southern capital, the first visit by such a high-ranking UN official since 2012.

Briefing the UN Security Council, he warned of wider instability, following fighting elsewhere in Libya, including 10 people left dead by violence that shattered a ceasefire in Tripoli on Thursday.

“Conditions are deteriorating at an alarming rate,” Mr Salame said.

“I heard first hand from citizens who spoke movingly about the terrible hardships they endure, from the wanton brutality of Da'esh to wading through lakes of sewage,” he said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.

Southern Libya's porous and long borders – with Chad, Niger and Sudan – are easy territory for people smugglers and they are adding to a desperate situation, with foreign mercenaries and criminals entering the country “to prey upon citizens and migrants alike”.

"The south remains Libya's vulnerable heart, encompassing almost one million square kilometers of land," said Mr Salame. "The source of much of the nation's natural wealth, through its water and oil, has been woefully neglected."


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“I urge the government and international community to move swiftly and decisively in support of the South,” said Mr Salame.

“The [UN] mission has built a specific taskforce to tackle the situation there. Agencies are going to do their duty helping, but it is the Libyan authorities who must shoulder the burden.”

On Tuesday, the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi announced a military operation to "cleanse" the country's south of Islamic militants and criminals. The operation would also seek to stem illegal migration from sub-Saharan Africa, according to Ahmed Al Mesmari, an LNA spokesman.

Regarding the situation in Tripoli, where a ceasefire has largely been observed, Mr Salame said the violence of recent days showed how vulnerable the truce was.

“The ceasefire negotiated between the major armed actors in September remains in place, though must be constantly tended,” he added.

Mr Salame said he is seeking to bring Libya’s factions together to agree on a national agenda focused on rebuilding and laying the groundwork for elections. The special envoy urged Libya’s parties to support a UN-backed constitution.

The north African country has been in chaos since the 2011 uprising to topple former dictator Moammer Qaddafi. The country is now split between rival governments in Benghazi in the east and Tripoli in the west.

To try and bring the country together, the UN will soon announce details of a national conference, Mr Salame said, once Libyan representatives agree on “the essential ingredients for a new consensus on a national agenda”.

"We are working night and day to pull together these various elements to ensure the most productive event," he said.