Libya becoming experimental arms field

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Libya is turning into “an experimental field for all types of new weapons systems”, the UN acting special envoy said, with foreign supporters of the warring parties shipping in arms and fighters in violation of an embargo.

Libya’s conflict escalated sharply this month, with fierce fighting on several fronts in the west despite urgent calls from the UN and aid agencies for a truce to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

The new wave of fighting is fuelled by arms imported from abroad, UN acting envoy Stephanie Williams said in an online news conference.

“We have the RPO-A flame thrower, some kind of thermobaric system used in the southern suburbs of Tripoli. We have new UAVs brought in, including a UAV essentially a suicide UAV that explodes on impact,” Williams said.

“These are two examples of frightening systems deployed in an urban setting which is completely unacceptable,” she added.

Concerns the conflict may have taken a new turn emerged on Wednesday when the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) said it was investigating a possible chemical attack on its forces.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern-based Khalifa Haftar has been shelling Tripoli, the seat of the GNA, since launching a military campaign to capture the city a year ago.

Pro-GNA forces recently mounted offensives to drive back the LNA, capturing towns in the north-west and moving toward Haftar’s main strategic centre Tarhouna.

The LNA is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt, the GNA by Turkey, whose military support from January onwards helped alter the balance of power on the ground.

GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said in a message reports of fighters affected by nerve gas in the Tripoli suburb Salahedine were based on initial reports from field hospitals.

“The GNA is investigating,” he added. It will await a final report before informing the UN chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, the ministry said.

LNA spokesman, Ahmed Mismari, described the report of chemical weapons, in a statement as “rumours and lies”.

Williams said it was “a concerning report”.

“We as the UN call on all violating the arms embargo, including countries at the table in Berlin, signed up to respect the arms embargo, but continue to blatantly violate it. That must stop.”