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Libya’s international war

International | Outside nations and stakeholders remain embroiled in the long-running conflict
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 1/21/20, 05:02 pm

The civil war in Libya has entangled more than a dozen other countries. On Sunday, representatives of many of those nations and several multinational governing bodies like the United Nations met in Berlin to try to work out a peace deal between the two warring sides.

Factions have fought to control Libya since the 2011 ouster of dictator Muammar Qaddafi created a political vacuum. Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army govern the east, while the UN-backed Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj controls the west from the capital city of Tripoli. Clashes between the two sides intensified in April 2019 after forces loyal to Haftar launched an offensive against Tripoli.

Egypt, France, Jordan, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates back Haftar, while al-Sarraj receives support from Qatar and Turkey. The unrest has drawn in militias and troops from beyond Libya’s borders. At least 3,000 Sudanese mercenaries are fighting with Haftar’s forces. Some 2,000 Syrian fighters have traveled from Turkey to back Sarraj, including 1,350 men who arrived in Turkey on Jan. 5, The Guardian reported. Other nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, have provided Haftar with advanced weapon systems.

Russia and Turkey brokered a truce between the leaders this month, but Haftar refused to sign the final cease-fire deal, and both sides reported several violations. The offensive has killed more than 280 civilians and displaced more than 146,000 others since April. The United Nations Mission in Libya has recorded more than 1,000 drone strikes in the past nine months, most of them by Libyan National Army forces.

After four hours of talks in Berlin over the weekend, a group of world powers that included Russia, Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom, and others agreed on paper to respect a long-disregarded arms embargo, to end military backing of the rival sides, and to nudge them toward a full cease-fire. They are also considering deploying a multinational force to the country. The warring factions agreed to nominate five members to a UN cease-fire monitoring committee, but they are still unwilling to negotiate directly.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres adopted a cautious tone while saying the conference successfully dampened a regional escalation of the conflict. “That risk was averted in Berlin—provided, of course, that it is possible to maintain the truce and then to move into a cease-fire,” he said.

Libya is a central hub for illegal migrants hoping to leave North Africa and cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, and the political conditions have allowed smugglers and human traffickers to thrive. The latest fighting has also endangered many migrants still stranded in the country.

In the first two weeks of this year, the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted at least 953 refugees and migrants and sent them back to detention centers, the UN said. An airstrike on July 3, 2019, on the Tajoura detention center in the eastern suburbs of Tripoli killed 53 people and injured 130 others, reported Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières).

Claudia Gazzini, a Libyan analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the Berlin conference symbolizes a credible step, but “risk remains that some participants will merely pay lip service to the diplomatic initiative, even as they continue to fuel a war from which they benefit.”

Associated Press/Photo by Alvaro Barrientos Associated Press/Photo by Alvaro Barrientos French President Emmanuel Macron (center) with African leaders after the G5 Sahel summit in Pau, France, on Jan. 13

Leading the terror fight

French President Emmanuel Macron and five West African leaders last week agreed to bolster their military cooperation to combat the growing insurgency in the Sahel region.

Macron said France would commit an extra 220 soldiers to the insurgency fight in addition to about 4,500 troops already stationed in the region. Leaders from Niger, Mali, Chad, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso welcomed France’s military presence and called for more international backing.

Macron urged U.S. President Donald Trump not to withdraw American troops from Africa after U.S. officials hinted at shifting focus to Russia and China. “I would like to be able to convince President Trump that the fight against terrorism, to which he is deeply committed, is playing out also in this region,” Macron said.

Despite French military presence and around 13,000 UN peacekeeping forces, extremist groups continue to operate in the Sahel. An attack in Niger’s southwestern region earlier this month killed 89 soldiers. At least 71 others died in another attack in December. —O.O.

Associated Press Associated Press A damaged telecommunications mast after an al-Shabaab attack in Kamuthe, Kenya, on Jan. 13

Rising death toll

The Somali-based Islamic terror group al-Shabaab carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya in recent weeks, including one at a primary school in Garissa. The terrorists killed three Christian teachers, wounded a fourth, and abducted a Muslim teacher, according to International Christian Concern.

ICC said al-Shabaab killed 25 people in five weeks, including four Christian teachers on a bus and three Americans at Camp Simba. In the bus attack, al-Shabaab separated passengers and killed those who couldn’t recite Islamic verses.

Security analyst Tres Thomas told Voice of America the group used disparate treatment to sow division between Christians and Muslims.

Recently the Armed Conflict, Location, and Event Data Project estimated al-Shabaab attacks on civilians killed at least 4,000 people since 2010, not including military or security targets. —Julia A. Seymour The forest of Aokigahara, near Mt. Fuji, Japan, known for being the site of many suicides

Hopeful data

Suicide rates in Japan have dropped to their lowest in more than 40 years, marking the 10th straight year of decline, according to police last week. The data revealed 2019 had 881 fewer suicides, bringing the total under 20,000. That’s the lowest since the nation started keeping records in 1978.

Suicides in Japan reached an alarming peak back in 2003 at 34,427 cases. Many in the country faced financial pressure as the nation struggled with the aftermath of the 1998 Asian financial crisis, and the numbers rose again after the 2008 global financial crisis. Japan also has a history of viewing suicide as an honorable death.

The government set up a suicide prevention program in 2007 and tweaked it in 2016 to allow for regional adjustments. The nation also has recorded more psychological services by volunteer and missionary groups.

But a singular focus on economic growth has taken a toll: Many people are overworked, and the country has tallied a record number of people who say they are lonely. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Moises Castillo Associated Press/Photo by Moises Castillo Alejandro Giammattei (left) with his daughter Ana Marcela after his swearing-in at the National Theater in Guatemala City on Jan. 14

Conservative sworn in

Guatemalan conservative Alejandro Giammattei ran for president three times before clinching victory in an August runoff vote. The former prisons chief and surgeon took a stance against same-sex marriage and abortion and pledged to spur investments and increase security during his inauguration speech.

One day after he was sworn in last week, Giammattei signed a $1 billion private sector investment agreement with the United States in a bid to create more jobs. Some 59 percent of Guatemalans live below the poverty line.

He will also have to deal with the Asylum Cooperation Agreement that his predecessor signed with the United States. The deal allows the United States to send Honduran and Salvadoran asylum-seekers to Guatemala. Giammattei succeeds Jimmy Morales, who is facing multiple allegations of corruption. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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