TRIPOLI/PARIS – France’s President Emmanuel Macron called on Wednesday for a cease-fire in the month-long battle for Libya’s capital Tripoli after fighting hit a migrant detention center overnight.
With foreign powers aghast at the latest flare-up in a nation in chaos since the 2011 toppling of Moammar Gadhafi, Macron met the internationally recognized Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Paris.
“Noting that there is no military solution to the Libyan conflict … the proposal was put forward to delimit a cease-fire line, under international supervision,” Macron’s office said in a statement afterward, backing a U.N. peace plan and elections.
France has in the past been supportive of eastern Libyan forces commander Khalifa Hifter, who launched an assault on Serraj’s Tripoli base in early April under the banner of combating terrorism and restoring order.
With Hifter’s troops bogged down in southern outskirts, fighting has been raging though the night but slowing in the day as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began this week.
Overnight, there was shelling on a camp of pro-Serraj fighters, witnesses said. Shrapnel struck the roof of a nearby migrants’ detention center in the eastern suburb of Tajoura.
Though nobody was wounded at the center, frightened migrants, who had come mainly from sub-Saharan African nations hoping to reach Europe by sea, pleaded for rescue.
“We have almost lost hope in our life,” one migrant at the center told Reuters, declining to give his name.
“War here is too much. Please, we need help.”
The Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) charity said a hole was blown open in a hangar housing women, nearly hitting one infant. “How many more lives must be threatened before these vulnerable people are evacuated?”
The fighting has killed 443 people and injured another 2,110, with tens of thousands also forced out of their homes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Showing the challenge of finding a political solution even if a ceasefire can be reached, Serraj told TV channel France24 that Hifter was attempting a power grab.
“Hifear and (his armed groups) only want to control power in Tripoli under the pretext of war on terrorism and militias,” he said, urging a “clearer stance” from Paris toward Hifter.
The conflict has threatened to disrupt OPEC member Libya’s oil shipments, fuel migration to Europe, and encourage jihadis to exploit the power vacuum as the parallel administrations in east and west face off against each other.
It has also frozen the U.N. peace plan and exposed divisions in Europe and the Gulf.
Hifter, a former general in Gadhafi’s army who later turned against him, enjoys the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. He also received military support from France which helped him take over the eastern city of Benghazi in 2017.
Serraj, whose supporters say Hifter is a would-be dictator in the same mold as Gadhafi, met Macron after also visiting Germany and Italy.
The U.N. mission in Libya said it was deeply concerned about a sharp increase in kidnappings and arbitrary arrests during the Tripoli conflict, including the abduction of two Libyan TV journalists on May 2 whose fate remained unknown.