Libya War Escalation Is Straining ‘Decimated’ Health System

(Bloomberg) --

An escalation in Libya’s year-long war is straining the North African country’s ability to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the acting United Nations envoy said, as foreign powers intervening continue to flout an arms embargo.

“It’s incredibly reckless. It’s inhumane, it’s stretching the capacity of local authorities and the health infrastructure that is already decimated,” Stephanie Williams told Bloomberg in an interview on Thursday. “And they’re whistling past the graveyard, that’s what they’re doing.”

The intensified fighting has closed down one of Tripoli’s largest hospitals, which came under three days of shelling as the country reported at least 24 cases of coronavirus infections. It also followed the announcement of a humanitarian truce between the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, who controls the country’s shuttered oil fields and had set off the fighting last year when he tried to take the capital.

“Every call for a truce, even when it’s accepted by both sides, seems to inevitably lead to an escalation, both by the parties on the ground but also foreign sponsors,” Williams said.

Over the past few weeks, drone strikes in support of the government in the capital, which is backed primarily by Turkey, have intensified, destroying a command center and killing one of Haftar’s top commanders, while also targeting supply convoys.

Haftar’s forces, who are backed by Russian mercenaries, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, have bombarded Tripoli with artillery, while a mayor loyal to the strongman closed water supplies to the city’s some 2 million inhabitants.

UN-led negotiations to resolve the conflict resulted in a ceasefire agreement in February that’s yet to be ratified, and a deal to start economic reforms. Those would have included a deal on oil revenue distribution by the Tripoli-based central bank, a key demand from Haftar, who in January allowed loyalists to close down oil fields. But an international audit of the bank has been obstructed by Libya’s own audit bureau, Williams said.

“They are now obstructing a process whose purpose is to enhance transparency and accountability, and by the way empower the help the audit bureau to restore its rightful place,” she said. “There’s a crisis over legitimacy, there’s a crisis over power and authority and access to resources.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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