Libya’s internationally recognised leader dashed hopes of reviving UN ceasefire negotiations after his side withdrew, saying talk of resuming was overtaken by events as eastern forces continue to shell Tripoli.
The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar, which shelled the port of the capital held by the recognised government, also ruled out a truce with “terrorists” and “Turkish invaders”, suggesting a near year-long battle will continue.
The port is a major entry gate for wheat, fuel and food imports and an arrival point for Turkish vessels sending arms, drones, trucks and soldiers to help Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj fend off the LNA, supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries.
The conflict cut oil exports by a million barrels a day and could deepen a security vacuum that could be exploited by Islamist militants and human traffickers dispatching migrants by boat to Europe.
The Tripoli government left ceasefire talks on Tuesday and a defiant Serraj, visiting the shelled port, rebuffed calls to return to the negotiation table.
“There must first be a strong signal from all international players trying to talk to us,” he told reporters, saying this applied to parallel discussions focused on political and economic issues as well.
He suggested fighting was likely to continue: “We have an even stronger signal, which is defending our people.”
Photographs showed containers in the port with large holes. The National Oil Corporation and UN said shells almost hit a gas tanker.
Nearly nine years after rebel fighters backed by NATO air strikes overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya still has no central authority. Streets are controlled by armed factions, with rival governments based in Tripoli and the east.
“We want a ceasefire and serious negotiations to end the war for the sake of all Libyans,” Jalal al-Bosairi, a 45-year-old businessman, said.
Since the LNA marched on Tripoli nearly a year ago, fighting has displaced 150 000 people.
DIFFICULT TRUCE TALKS
A second round of talks involving military officers from both sides in Geneva was also stalled.
UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame was trying to convince the Tripoli delegation to stay in Geneva and resume indirect talks.
“Delegations are still in Geneva and Salame had a meeting with the head of the GNA delegation,” said Jean El Alam, spokesman for the UN Libya mission.
The Geneva meetings have been held in different venues. Another round of political talks is scheduled for next week in Geneva.
LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari said his forces decided to send a delegation to Geneva adding: “There will be no peace, talks or ceasefire with terrorists and Turkish invaders.”
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Haftar and they agreed a political settlement is the only option for Libya, RIA news agency said.
The latest attack on Tripoli is part of a pattern amounting to a power play by Haftar.
His forces last month shut down Libya’s main oil ports as European and Arab powers and the US met his supporters in Berlin to halt the Tripoli fighting.
LNA supply routes are less exposed than those of the GNA as eastern airports and seaports are out of range of Turkish combat drones used by the Tripoli government.
The LNA uses UAE-supplied drones which cover the country, although there have been no air strikes for weeks as Turkey installed sophisticated defences.