UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called for an end to the fighting that erupted last week between Libyan political rivals for control of the capital, Tripoli.
“It’s still time to stop. It’s still time for a cease-fire to take place, for a cessation of hostilities to take place and to avoid the worst, which would be a dramatic bloody battle for Tripoli,” Guterres told reporters late Wednesday after he met behind closed doors with the 15-nation U.N. Security Council for more than two hours.
“It is still time to recognize there is no military solution. Only political solutions can apply to situations like the one in Libya,” he said.
Guterres visited Libya last week. Just hours after he departed the country, forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar advanced from their positions in the east on Tripoli, which is controlled by the U.N.-backed Presidential Council and Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj. Guterres met with both men during his mission.
“It is obvious that my appeal for an offensive not to take place and for the hostilities to stop was not heard,” the U.N. chief said. “But I think that when one looks at the situation today, it is clear that we have a very dangerous situation, and it is clear that we absolutely need to stop it.”
National conference canceled
The fighting has scuttled U.N. plans for a national conference Sunday to bring the warring parties together. The U.N. said Tuesday that it is postponing it, as violence is overshadowing the political process.
On Wednesday, fighting centered on the suburbs south of the capital, with thousands of civilians fleeing their homes for safety. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says more than 5,800 people have been displaced in this latest round of violence.
Residents in the city report Haftar’s warplanes were buzzing neighborhoods and firing at them. Fighting was also reported at what had been the country’s international airport.
The U.N. has expressed concern at the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas and called on the parties to abide by international law and to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.
Fears for region
U.N. officials fear the violence in Libya could destabilize the entire Middle East by sending more refugees fleeing to Europe across the dangerous Mediterranean, disrupting oil production, and allowing terrorist groups such as Islamic State to take advantage of the chaos.
South Africa’s U.N. ambassador, Jerry Matjila, told reporters after the meeting that the Security Council is united in supporting the U.N. chief and his special envoy, Ghassan Salamé, to get the parties back to the negotiating table.
Matjila also expressed concern about how the worsening situation could reverberate on the African continent.
Fears for Africans
“Also, our concern is Africans, about what might happen in the Sahel if the issue is not resolved,” he said. “We are also concerned about migrants who are trapped in some cities in Libya, and we need to give those migrants at least a corridor to go out to safety.”
There are thousands of African migrants who have tried to transit through Libya across the Mediterranean to Europe. Many are in overcrowded detention centers in Libya.
Libya has been in political and economic chaos since longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011.