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Libyan Minister Calls for Unity Amid Militia Violence

Lawmakers from Libya's newly-elected parliament assembled in Tobruk, August 2, 2014.

Lawmakers from Libya's newly-elected parliament assembled in Tobruk, August 2, 2014.

Even as a British warship evacuated British nationals and clashes continued in the capital, Tripoli, Libya's Justice Minister Salah al Marghani on Monday called for unity in the country and an end to the violence.

“The transitional government is proposing an urgent vision, at the core of which it to put in place all necessary solutions to preserve security, using all means possible, that will produce a balanced situation in Libya,” he told lawmakers.

The United Nations welcomed the new parliament, saying it represented the true will of the Libyan people for a democratic process and building a state based on the rule of law.

But militia violence in Tripoli and in Benghazi has made those cities so unsafe that al Marghani and Libya's newly elected parliament were forced to hold their first session Monday in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Hundreds have died in the recent struggle for power between warring militia groups, the military and breakaway military factions. The fighting has forced most countries to evacuate their nationals.

Speaking in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was committed to working closely with the Libyan government. But, he added, "Libya’s challenges can really only be solved by Libyans themselves."

Analyst Mohamed Elmenshawy of the Washington-based Middle East Institute says the chances of creating al Marghani’s vision of a unified Libya anytime soon are slim.

"There is a lot of militias, regional militias. Each city has its own militia and its own ideology and own interests, and the fragmentation of powers make it very difficult to have a unity government or representative government," he told VOA.

Islamist groups, who lost seats in the last parliamentary elections, boycotted Monday's session.

Libya's central government also has been unable to protect its significant oil and gas sectors from rebel forces. Unable to directly export themselves, militia commanders are taking those assets hostage for increased economic and political leverage.

On Monday, eight fuel tanks caught fire in Tripoli amid heavy fighting around the city’s airport. Libya says 22 people were killed Saturday in the airport fighting.

Violence between rival militia groups in Tripoli and Benghazi have killed more than 200 people in the last two weeks.

Michael Nayebi-Oskui, a Middle East analyst for the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, says that while the conflict inside Libya is mainly ethnic, tribal, ideological and local, the breakdown in security is allowing al-Qaida-linked groups to move in.

"The weakness of the Libyan state, specifically of central government, has allowed the absolute vastness of Libyan territory to be used as a potential refuge and training and recruitment ground for various regional militant groups, including al-Qaida linked jihadists.”

Elmenshawy adds that neighboring Egypt is concerned that militant Islamist fighters could spill over the border and join forces with its own banned Muslim Brotherhood. But he says there is little that the international community can do to defuse the violence that started with the overthrow of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

"The international forces, or international community, has a minimum role. They can't do much really. It is very difficult and unmanageable and unfixable anytime soon," Elmenshawy says.

On Monday, a British navy ship evacuated 110 people, most of them British, from Tripoli. The United States already has advised all Americans to leave the country. Thousands of Philippine workers have been told to leave, and thousands of Pakistanis and Egyptians workers are now trying to flee across the border.

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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.