Libyan conflict reaches new phase as fighting nears oil crescent
Diplomatic efforts to end the Libya conflict turned to preventing renewed violence near the coastal city of Sirte and the resource-rich region known as the oil crescent beyond.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that a demilitarised zone could be created to prevent clashes breaking out around Sirte when eastern and western factions and their international backers squared off.
“The conflict has entered a new phase with foreign interference reaching unprecedented levels, including in the delivery of sophisticated equipment and the number of mercenaries involved in the fighting,” Mr Guterres said.
Violence escalated in recent months after Turkey intervened to bolster the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
Government forces are now on the outskirts of Sirte after gaining the upper hand over Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
“GNA units, with significant external support, continued their advance eastward and are now 25 kilometres west of Sirte after two previous attempts to gain control of the city,” Mr Guterres said.
“However, we are very concerned about the alarming military build-up around the city and the high level of direct foreign interference in the conflict, in violation of the UN arms embargo.”
Central Jufra district and Sirte are gateways to the oil crescent and a series of ports and oil terminals to the east of the city.
Four of Libya’s six hydrocarbon export terminals are on the coast of the Gulf of Sirte and more than 50 per cent of the country’s crude oil exports leave through those centres.
Restarting oil exports from Libya is a major part of UN efforts to achieve a peace deal in Libya.
On Wednesday, the country’s National Oil Corporation lifted measures on the Es Sider oil terminal, east of Sirte, paving the way for higher oil exports from the Opec member.
The move was welcomed by the UN, but Petroleum Facilities Guard forces in control of the port continued to block a tanker from entering Es Sider.
Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, called for a ceasefire in the country and for signatories to the Berlin Conference on Libya held in January to support its conclusions, which include backing a political solution to the conflict.
“Six months after the conference, the UAE regrets the deterioration of the security situation in country,” he said.
“This downward spiral can be attributed to the continuous foreign and regional interference in Libya’s internal affairs.”
In the months since the conference, the principal point of progress in Libya, a recommitment to the long-flouted arms embargo, lies in tatters.
The country is more awash with arms and foreign fighters than before, with Turkey recruiting about 10,000 Syrian mercenaries.
“The growing presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters exacerbates the conflict,” Dr Gargash said.