Forces seize town in Tripoli, UN chief urges restraint

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI: Eastern Libyan forces on Thursday took full control of Gharyan, a town about 100 km south of the capital Tripoli, the force commander and residents said.
The taking of Gharyan after skirmishes on Wednesday with forces allied to Tripoli Prime Minister Fayez al Serraj culminated a rapid thrust westwards by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) from his eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
The devlopments signified a serious escalation of the conflict in Libya that has dragged on since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
“We fully control Gharyan and right now as we speak I’m driving through the town,” Abdelsalam al Hassi, commander of the operation to secure western Libya, said by telephone.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres meanwhile appealed for restraint by the rival factions.
Libya has been divided between the internationally recognised government in Tripoli and a parallel administration allied to Haftar since Gaddafi’s downfall.
Gharyan, lying in the Western mountains about 100 km due south of the capital, had been allied to the Tripoli government.
The two sides fought skirmishes on Wednesday but these had ceased, town mayor Yousef al Bdairi said earlier on Thursday.
A town resident said: “The town now is under control of the army who came from the east and I can see their vehicles with their Libyan National Army logo.”
Guterres, who arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday to promote peace talks, said in a tweet before Gharyan’s capture that he was deeply concerned by the military movements and the risk of confrontation.
“There is no military solution. Only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems. I call for calm and restraint as I prepare to meet the Libyan leaders in the country,” he said.
The developments are a setback for the United Nations and Western countries which have been trying to mediate between Serraj and Haftar, who met in Abu Dhabi last month to discuss a power-sharing deal.
A national conference is set to follow this month to agree on a road map for elections to resolve the prolonged instability in Libya, an oil producer and a hub for refugees and migrants trekking across the Sahara in the hope of reaching Europe.
His forces control the east and recently expanded to southern Libya.
There was no immediate comment from the Tripoli government, which has issued a general alert for its forces in response to the eastern advance.
Analysts doubt the LNA is capable of launching a full-scale attack as it has stretched itself with the southern advance and it also relies on tribesmen and other auxiliary forces.
— Reuters