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The Battle for Tripoli; Migrants On a Suicide Mission To Greener Pasture
The Battle for Tripoli; Migrants On a Suicide Mission To Greener Pasture

By - Adedoyin Shittu

Posted - 07-07-2019

A total of 53 migrants including children were killed and more than 140 others were wounded at a detention centre on Tajoura site in an air raid in the early hours of July 3. The site which is about 22 kilometres east of the Libyan capital Tripoli is one of several detention centres scattered around the city. At the time of the air strike the centre had about 600 migrants from at least 17 mainly African States, including Sudan, Nigeria, Morrocco, Somali and Eritrea.

According to two migrants who spoke to “The Associated Press” on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, the airstrike struck a workshop housing weapons and vehicles and an adjacent hangar where around 150 migrants were being held, mostly Sudanese and Moroccans, .

According to the World Health Organisation, the casualties of this attack on the centre makes the overall death toll of the Tripoli conflict to about 1,000 dead and more than 5,000 wounded, and over 100,000 displaced as the battle for Tripoli ranges on” .

The UN-backed government in Tripoli and Italy’s Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini have accused the forces of eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar of carrying out the deadly attack because the LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari announced ongoing airstrikes targeting Tajoura and other cities along the Tripoli front lines just hours before the facility was hit.
Haftar’s the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) have also blamed the attack on shelling by militias loyal to the UN-backed government.

The Libya Crisis
Libya has not had a stable government since Muammer Gadafi was forced out of power in 2011 by the US and its allies in NATO. The country which had the largest oil reserve in Africa became a playing field for Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates and they asserted control over large swathes of territory in the oil-rich nation. Since then, Libya has become a battleground for outside powers with competing interests and conflicting visions.

Then enters strongman Khalifa Hafter, a former Libyan army general who went on self imposed exile from 1990 to 2011. Haftar helped Gaddafi to seize power in 1969 before falling out with him and going into exile in the US. Hafter joined hands with forces in the fight against Muammer Gadafi in 2011 and was a rebel commander. He became a key player after gathering illegal militias in the fight against the extremists out of Benghazi in the east . This fight took more than three years but what started as a military campaign against extremists in the east of the country quickly escalated into an attempt to control the whole country. The 75-year-old former general thinks Libya needs a strongman that will push out Islamists and the country is not yet ready for democracy.

Amid this chaos in Libya, the country’s government split into two competing administrations in 2014, one in the west, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord’s(GNA) which is internationally recognised and backed by the UN, Turkey, Italy and Qatar, headed by Fayez Sarruj. The other in the east in Tobruk is General Khalifa Hafter backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirate and France.

Haftar with foreign military support and support from tribesmen militias down south controls two-thirds of the country and the main oil field in the country, over three-quarters of the nation’s oil is produced in the east of the country. Oil is, of course, the main source of revenue in Libya so there is resentment as those in the east believe they receive fewer resources than those in the west despite their area being hugely more profitable.

He launched a military campaign to topple the UN installed government in Tripoli, an attempt to bring the whole of Libya under his control. However his attempt to control the country capital has bee unsuccessful. Though, the western-installed GNA government in Tripoli does not have an army of its own, various militias that had previously fought each other rallied against Mr Haftar army and on June 27th they captured Gharyan.

The LNA air force’s Major General Mohamed Al-Manfour, seeking revenge for the loss, declared that, “We will intensify air raids on military targets in Tripoli after all other conventional methods have failed.” The GNA seized on his statement to blame the LNA for the tragedy at the Tajoura detention centre. This is because since losing the city of Gharyan on June 26th of this year, Mr Hafter has stepped up his bombardment of Tripoli. Gharyan is 100 km south-west of the capital Tripoli.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, meanwhile, noted that both parties involved in the fight for Tripoli, knew where civilians were sheltering.

Libya civil war fast becoming a proxy war
The fight for Tripoli has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of war on the scale of the 2011 conflict that forced out longtime dictator, Muammar Gadhafi and led to his death.
Hifter, who says he is determined to restore stability to the North African country, is backed by powerful friends including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)and Saudi Arabia while his rivals, mainly Islamists, are supported by Turkey and Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE sees Mr Haftar as an ally in their counter-revolution against the popular, and often Islamist, uprisings the Arab spring unleashed in 2011. And they view Libya’s oil, territory and ports as strategic assets that they want to keep out of the hands of their regional foes like Turkey and Qatar. They support Mr Haftar with weapons and also finances to pay his recruits.

While Turkey and Qatar on the other hand have sent weapons and armoured trucks to reinforce Tripoli. Both say they are buttressing the forces of democratic and popular change. They have also supported armed groups who share their Islamist ideology.

Following the recapturing of Gharyan by GNC, Mr Haftar’s men threatened to strike all Turkish vessels in Libyan waters in retribution. It detained six Turkish sailors and released them only after Turkey threatened military action.

Libya’s former colonial rulers, France and Italy, have also backed opposing sides, fuelled by their different oil interests among other things. Total, a French company, has most of its fields in the east while Italy’s oil giant, Eni, is concentrated in the west. Russia, which favours autocrats across the region, has thrown its support behind Mr Haftar.

Libya; France and Italy Battlefield
France has been increasingly backing the eastern Libyan forces (LNA) of General Haftar while Italy is the foremost backer of the western-installed government in Tripoli (GNA) with which it has oil and gas deals with.

But what does these two NATO countries have to gain
Before Muammer Gadhafi was ousted, Rome and Gadhafi agreed to a $5 billion deal in which Italy agreed to pay Libya reparations for incidents that occurred during colonial rule, while Gadhafi agreed to help stymie the flow of African migrants in Libya and trying to reach Europe through Italy.

When Gadhafi was removed, Libya became a favoured route for thousands of African immigrants yearly and Rome was therefore prepared to work with whomever was in Tripoli to try to get them to put the border controls back up, regardless of how friendly they were to Islamists, or powerless to confront them.

Also Italy has deep economic ties with Tripoli and the major port city of Misrata. It also has energy interests via the company Eni throughout the country, including the Greenstream pipeline, that are directly threatened by Hifter’s allies, who have sought to weaken the Tripoli-based National Oil Corp. and establish their own oil company.

On the other hand, Paris want to retained deep ties to its former colonial possession, protect its interests in the region and continue to play a prominent role there, particularly in West Africa. So the country believes a strong man capable of curtailing the activities of the extremists and can prevent them from filtering into sub-Saharan is needed to rule Libya. Hafter who defeated al-Qaeda in the East seems the perfect candidate.

While Rome is concerned about the economic ties it has with the country and also migrants issues, Libya presents serious security risks to other neighbors with whom it has porous borders, such as Tunisia, Mali, Chad and Niger, all close allies of France.

Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, a human rights activist and former Vice Chairman of the National Transitional Council of Libya during the 2011 revolution, said that “There will be no peace and stability in Libya unless the international community reaches consensus.”

Failure of the European Union
The centre struck by rocket on July 3rd is located next to a military warehouse used as supply depot for militia working to protect the GNA in Tripoli. The UN refugee agency had previously called for people to be removed from the detention centre in Tajoura, expressing fears that they were likely to be victims of air raids being mounted by Haftar’s air force. The warehouse was targeted in May by LNA but the detention centre survived on that occasion. The site is said to be one of two locations in the area controlled by Al-Nawasi and Bab Tajoura militias. Both groups are allied to the Government of National Accord now battling the Khalifa Haftar Libyan National Army.

Many of the migrants are not Libyans but thousands of African migrants especially in sub-saharan Africa, trying to flee into Europe from unfortunate conditions such as famine, war and dire economic conditions and the Libyan route remains the favoured route for them.
Migration has become an issue in Europe, especially after the fall of Gaddafi and Italy is the center of destination for this thousand of migrants who are ready to take this dangerous journey. The country in partnership with the EU had come up with a workable plan to tackle this “illegal migration” of migrants.

Recently, the EU downsized its sea rescue missions in the Mediterranean while Italy, took strict measures to stop charity rescue ships from bringing to its ports any more refugees and migrants rescued off Libya.

Italy’s Interior Minister, Marco Minniti, backed by the EU also enlisted the help of militias in Libya to curb the flow of migrants reaching his country. The European Union gave the Serraj’s government tens of millions of euros to be used to beef up Libya’s coast guard, reinforcing its southern border and improve conditions for migrants in detention centers. Funds can also be used to develop alternative employment for those involved in trafficking. The means that the militants will return any illegal migrants caught trying to reach the EU from Libyan waters. However, this deal did not provide any protection for those sent back to Libya against their will; once there, they suffer even more at the hands of the militias.

It would seem that the EU is not interested in getting this immigrant to safety knowing that Libya is insecure, politically unstable and filled with militants who are their own government, the EU is but only interested in preventing migrants from entering the continent and keeping its borders safe. Though the influx of migrants into Europe has reduced due to the actions of this militants, the policies used is not sustainable. Expecting the GNA to deliver on its commitments to the EU was foolhardy, as the authority itself depends on militias in and around Tripoli. Some of these militias are actually involved in people trafficking across Libya but the EU appears to be more interested in sealing its borders than applying any real meaning action to its rhetoric about human rights, solidarity and migrants’ safety.

Libya is at war, ungovernable, and in chaos, and migrants and refugees will only suffer and possibly be killed while Libyans are killing each other, the EU on the other hand cannot be bothered provided its borders are safe while fuelling opposing sides in the battle for Tripoli.