Stephanie Williams, the acting UN envoy to Libya, has warned of the severe threat of a miscalculation triggering a confrontation between rival foreign powers in Libya as weapons and mercenaries continue to flow into the country.
Speaking to the Guardian on a visit to London, Williams said: “The Libyan people are exhausted and scared in equal measure. They are tired of war and desire peace, but they fear this is not in their hands now. They want a solution and a ceasefire. The alternative to a ceasefire and an inclusive political solution essentially represent the destruction of their country.”
American diplomats stressed that the Libyan people sought to stop the fighting and launch a comprehensive political settlement.
“With so many external actors with their own agendas, the risk of miscalculation and a regional confrontation is high,” Williams said, adding “this is as much a battle between external rivals as a civil war now, from which the Libyans are losing their sovereignty.”
Williams stressed that it was extremely difficult to end the civil war in Libya as long as a “proxy war” continues between the foreign countries.
“There has been no effort to stop the influx of mercenaries or weapons, so what is clear is that there is complete international impunity, which is matched by impunity on the ground,” Williams said. “The risk of this turning into a pure proxy war is very serious indeed. The overall picture is one of continuing foreign intervention.”
The Libyan factions are looking for a political process to end the conflict, Williams said, but there is no agreement on how to demobilise Sirte, which is home to about 125,000 people.
The UN is brokering talks between officials from the rival Libyan factions as Williams said they had achieved consensus on key issues that would be foundational to any ceasefire agreement. These include counter-terrorism cooperation, withdrawal of foreign mercenaries, and the condition that the UN should monitor a ceasefire mechanism.
Williams’ predecessor, Ghassan Salame, resigned from his post in March saying he had been stabbed in the back by UN Security Council members who pretended to support him.
Civil war broke out in Libya after the toppling of long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, who was later killed. Numerous militias are fighting for power and influence in the country, with Tripoli-allied militias backed by Turkey, Qatar, and Italy. Meanwhile, eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France, and Russia.