Fighting in Libya will continue until one side is obliterated or resigns, migration researcher insists

Local militias in Libya have grown steadily in recent years, with those left out now forming alliances to shift the balance of power

Largest faction in Tripoli attacked by several militias over territory in the capital
Largest faction in Tripoli attacked by several militias over territory in the capital

The conflict in Libya is likely to get worse in the coming days, as rival militias battle it out for power in the region, according to investigative journalist and migration researcher Mark Micallef.

Libya’s United Nations-backed Government of National Accord declared a state of emergency in Tripoli as the fighting entered its second week, with over 40 people so far reported dead, mainly in the Salahuddin district.   

Mitiga International Airport, initially said to be closed for just 48 hours, remains closed as warring factions continue fighting for control of territory around the city.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday that Malta was concerned with recent developments and was monitoring the situation in Libya closely.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Micallef explained that for roughly the last year and a half, while disagreements did exist between the various militias, these never resulted in much conflict, maintaining the status quo in the country.

Micallef said that the “situation is predictable. Militias that control the status quo are given money and resources while smaller factions are not, and they are now fighting back.”

Fighting broke out on the 26 August when the Seventh Brigade militia launched a surprise attack on districts in southern Tripoli, with Micallef pointing out that new alliances were being observed that couldn’t be considered predictable.

“The situation is at its worst right now. The Seventh Brigade, no longer affiliated with the GNA, have attacked territory controlled by the Tripoli Revolutionaries Battalion,” he said.

READ MORE: Libya declares state of emeregency as death toll reaches 39

The Tripoli Revolutionaries Battalion is affiliated with the GNA and is Tripoli’s largest force.

“New alliances are forming now as we speak. There are new factions allying themselves with the Seventh Brigade.”

Violence started in the densely populated neighbourhoods in Wadi Al-Rabeea and moved north towards the heart of Tripoli.

Infrastructure in the area has suffered significant damage
Infrastructure in the area has suffered significant damage

Asked about what could resolve the situation, Micallef wasn’t optimistic, insisting that the fighting was likely to continue until either side is either obliterated or resigns. Only then will they be primed for negotiation, Micallef said.

“The problem with this,” he added, “is that this will probably result in a new status quo, with another five different militias controlling Tripoli. The situation will recycle itself and they will eventually face new antagonists.”

This was echoed by former Foreign minister George Vella, who told MaltaToday that Libya continues to be a highly unstable country. He said the situation was explosive, with local authorities unable to enforce the rule of law.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MCF) has repeatedly declared that Libya is not a safe place for migrants and asylum seekers, many of whom are currently being held captive without food and water as the fighting continues.

Vella said that many migrants, from countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and others, were currently stranded in Tripoli, adding that authorities are not able to uphold their rights as the fighting continued.

READ MORE: Rocket lands near Italian embassy as fighting in Tripoli intensifies

Micallef explained that Libya’s two detention centres in Tripoli were not being evacuated as things stand, but, he said, they were not situated in an area hit by violence.

“However, many militias are now occupying the role of law enforcers and they are being left to fend for themselves. This is why so many are leaving Libya.”

Micallef also said that one could not but blame the international community for the current situation since global powers were aware of the situation.

“We have seen a year and half of calm,” he said. “It was a ticking time bomb. Politicians knew of the likely outcome of violence but took the occasion to relax. They must intervene. The bomb has now gone off.”

Turning to the local population, Micallef said that while some areas in Tripoli might be safe from the violence, many civilians could easily find themselves “sandwiched between gunfire”.

Meanwhile, the Italian Embassy in Libya has said that will remain open at this time and that it will stand by the people of Tripoli in this difficult climate.

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