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Don’t 'turn a blind eye' to Libya, UN agencies warn

Seven United Nations agencies called for a cease-fire in war-torn Libya that would allow local authorities and humanitarian organizations to focus on the coronavirus outbreak.
A damaged building is seen after an air strike at Tajura neighbourhood, east of Tripoli, Libya December 30, 2019.  REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny - RC2M5E9SRY8O

Libya can’t fight a war on two fronts, a group of United Nations agencies warned Wednesday, calling on the rival factions to agree to a lasting truce amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

“The international community must not turn a blind eye to the conflict,” they wrote in a joint statement. 

The seven UN agencies echoed a call from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in March, urging a global cease-fire so that coronavirus aid could reach vulnerable populations in countries like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

Signatories to Wednesday's statement include UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and Executive Director of the World Food Programme David Beasley. 

Libya has been embroiled in conflict since the ousting of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. For the past year, forces loyal to Libya’s eastern military strongman Khalifa Hifter have been staging an offensive on the capital Tripoli, where the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) is based. 

The fighting has escalated in the past month as Hifter, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, lost ground to GNA troops supported by Turkey. The United States, meanwhile, accuses Russia of further inflaming the conflict by sending mercenaries to fight on behalf of the eastern Libyan commander. 

“Hostilities continue unabated, hindering access and the delivery of critical humanitarian supplies,” the UN agencies wrote. “Humanitarian workers face significant challenges every day to carry on with their mission.” 

They verified 13 cases of “grave violations” during the past year, including the killing of children. At least 15 attacks since the start of this year have damaged health facilities and ambulances. 

The attacks on health care are of particular concern as the North African nation grapples with an outbreak of COVID-19. The country has registered 64 cases of the coronavirus and three deaths, mostly in Tripoli and Misrata. 

“This shows that local/community transmission is taking place,” the agencies wrote. “The risk of further escalation of the outbreak is very high.”

Amid concerns that Libya’s overstretched health system is ill-prepared to handle a spiraling outbreak, the agencies said Wednesday that “funds are urgently required” to continue with humanitarian services. 

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