BEIRUT

Middle East

Libya warring militias agree truce at main airport

The inside of a damaged terminal is seen after a shelling at Tripoli International Airport July 17, 2014. (REUTERS/Hani Amara)

TRIPOLI: Powerful militias battling for the Libyan capital's airport have agreed a cease-fire, Tripoli said Friday, after the government sought U.N. help to stop the country from becoming a "failed state."

Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz asked the U.N. Security Council to dispatch experts to train Libya's defense and police forces to ensure they can protect oil fields, airports and other vital sites.

The call came amid a surge of violence in the country with clashes between rival militias sparking fears of all-out civil war.

Tripoli's mayor and leaders of battling militia said overnight that a truce had been agreed and that control of the international airport would be handed over to neutral forces.

The airport has been closed since fighting erupted Sunday, when Islamist gunmen from the city of Misrata launched an attack on the facility, which has for the past three years been held by liberal, anti-Islamist fighters from Zintan, southwest of the capital.

Mokhtar Lakhdar, a commander for the Zintan forces, told AFP that a truce had been agreed under the authority of the city's government council.

Dozens of rockets have been fired at the airport, badly damaging planes as well as the main terminal, but Lakhdar confirmed this had halted Thursday night.

Ex-rebel fighters from Zintan and Misrata, east of Tripoli, both played a key role in the NATO-backed uprising that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

But they have become fierce rivals in the deadly power struggle between armed groups that followed and is now wracking the North African country.

Ahmad Hadeia, a spokesman for the rival Misrata fighters, said the cease-fire was "only around the airport" and did not include other sites controlled by the Zintan forces.

Misrata leaders said in a statement read out Thursday on television that the fighting at the airport was a "battle of revolutionaries... against followers of the old regime" of Gadhafi.

The clashes revived fears of the conflict spreading inside Tripoli itself, with official results still awaited from a June 25 election to the parliament previously dominated by Islamists.

"Should Libya become a failed state, kidnapped by radical groups and warlords, the consequences would be far-reaching and perhaps beyond control," Abdelaziz warned the Security Council as he requested U.N. help.

"We are not asking for military intervention," he said. "We are asking for a team from the U.N. specialized in the field of security."

Libya could become a "hub for attracting extremists," feeding radicalism and the arms flow in the region and further afield in Syria, Abdelaziz said.

"Don't you think that such patterns that are indicative of heading toward a failed state would justify a stronger, more strategic engagement from the Security Council?"

In a statement, the 15-member Security Council said it condemned the recent violence in Libya that would make "it even more difficult for the Libyan authorities to govern effectively."

The council will ask U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to look at the Libyan request for aid and present "options," Rwandan council chair Eugene-Richard Gasana said.

Last week, the United Nations evacuated its staff from Libya after the latest upsurge in fighting.

Abdelaziz said a new UN mission to help train the security forces would ensure Tripoli keeps control of vital oil revenue after militant groups seized oil terminals last year.

The blockades of the oil facilities that finally came to an end this month deprived Libya of more than $30 billion in revenue over 11 months, said the foreign minister.

 

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Summary

Powerful militias battling for the Libyan capital's airport have agreed a cease-fire, Tripoli said Friday, after the government sought U.N. help to stop the country from becoming a "failed state".

Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz asked the U.N. Security Council to dispatch experts to train Libya's defense and police forces to ensure they can protect oil fields, airports and other vital sites.

Tripoli's mayor and leaders of battling militia said overnight that a truce had been agreed and that control of the international airport would be handed over to neutral forces.

Mokhtar Lakhdar, a commander for the Zintan forces, told AFP that a truce had been agreed under the authority of the city's government council.

Ahmad Hadeia, a spokesman for the rival Misrata fighters, said the cease-fire was "only around the airport" and did not include other sites controlled by the Zintan forces.


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