Libya is at “a decisive turning point” as foreign powers pour weapons into the conflict and its coronavirus outbreak appears to be “spiralling out of control”, the top UN official for the country said.
The acting special representative to Libya, Stephanie Williams, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that its actions would “help to determine whether the country descends into new depths of fragmentation and chaos, or progresses towards a more prosperous future”.
Libya was plunged into chaos when the 2011 uprising that drew Nato intervention toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed.
Control of the country is divided between rival administrations based in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Fighting has died down in recent weeks but both sides are preparing for a battle over the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s major oilfields and export terminals.
Ms Williams told the council in a video briefing that “an uneasy stand-off continues around Sirte, imperilling the lives of the city’s 130,000 vulnerable inhabitants as well as the country’s vital oil infrastructure, which comprises its economic lifeline”.
Although front lines have remained relatively quiet since June, both sides appear to have received substantial military reinforcement since the last UN briefing on July 8, she said.
Seventy flights landed at eastern airports and three cargo vessels reportedly docked at eastern ports, all carrying advanced weapons and military equipment, Ms Williams said.
At the same time, 30 resupply flights arrived at airports in western Libya, along with nine cargo vessels carrying military hardware for forces allied to the government in Tripoli.
Ms Williams said the shipments were “an alarming breach of Libya’s sovereignty, a blatant violation of the UN arms embargo”.
They were also a breach of commitments by leaders of 12 world powers and other key countries that approved a 55-point road map to peace in Libya at a Berlin conference on January 19.
The UN mission in Libya, whose mandate is up for renewal in mid-September, "continues to receive reports of large-scale presence of foreign mercenaries and operatives," Ms Williams said.
She said their presence complicated "chances of a future settlement".
Meanwhile, the misery of the Libyan people “is further compounded by the debilitating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic", Ms Williams said.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases “more than doubled in the past two weeks", with 15,156 cases and 250 recorded deaths as of September 1.
“Exponential increases are a worrying trend, with community transmission now reported in some of Libya’s main cities including Tripoli and Sebha,” Ms Williams said.
The extent of the coronavirus outbreak was "likely to be much higher” because of testing shortages and inadequate healthcare facilities in Libya, which suffers an "extreme shortage of medical supplies and workers”.
Several Council members called for a quick nomination of a permanent UN special envoy for Libya.
Ms Williams has held the post in an acting capacity since Ghassan Salame stepped down in March for health reasons,.
Bickering between the US and other members on how the role should be defined has delayed the appointment of a successor.