The Ocean Viking on Saturday rescued 196 migrants off Libya, the humanitarian ship’s operator said.
It first picked up 57 people in an inflatable dinghy struggling in international waters off the North African country, SOS Mediterranee said.
In the afternoon, the ship’s crew carried out two additional rescues in the same area, plucking 54 people from a dinghy and 64 others from a wooden vessel.
In their latest operation, they saved 21 people from a wooden vessel.
The total rescued included at least two pregnant women and 33 minors, 22 of them unaccompanied.
According to the International Organization for Migration, at least 1,146 people have died at sea trying to reach Europe during the first half of 2021.
SOS Mediterranee says it has rescued more than 30,000 people since February 2016, first with the ship Aquarius, then with Ocean Viking.
SOS Mediterranee accuses European Union governments of neglecting coordinated search-and-rescue action to discourage migrants from attempting the crossing from war-torn Libya, where they are often victims of organised crime and militia violence.
Libyan authorities are also accused of forcibly returning intercepted ships to Libya, even when they are in European waters.
A UN Human Rights Office report in late May urged Libya and the EU to overhaul their rescue operations, saying existing policies “fail to prioritise the lives, safety and human rights” of people attempting to cross from Africa.
World powers gathered Wednesday in Berlin to seek lasting peace in Libya by ensuring the conflict-wracked North African country stays firmly on the path towards general elections on December 24.
Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah of Libya’s interim government is joining US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well as the foreign ministers of France, Turkey and Egypt at the UN-sponsored talks.
Russia’s Sergei Lavrov will be absent, but deputy foreign minister Sergey Vershinin will attend in his place.
The efforts to end a decade-long spiral of violence in Libya are the second round held in Berlin, after the first attended by the presidents of Turkey, Russia and France in January 2020, before the pandemic.
Before heading into talks, Blinken renewed demands that all foreign forces leave the war-battered nation.
A ceasefire agreement from October last year “has to be fully implemented including by withdrawing all foreign forces,” Blinken told reporters ahead of the opening of the conference.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is hosting the visit, underlined that “for the further stabilisation of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.”
Participants at the 2020 conference had pledged to end to international meddling and for foreign militants or troops to withdraw.
But neither Moscow nor Ankara, both of which have significant forces in the country, have met their promise.
The United Nations has estimated that 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries are still on Libya’s territory. And that presence is seen as a threat to the UN-backed transition leading to the elections.
– No one’s interest –
The oil-rich country descended into chaos after dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, resulting in multiple forces vying for power.
In recent years Libya has been split between two rival administrations backed by foreign forces and countless militias.
In October, after Turkey-backed forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli routed those of eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar, the two camps agreed a ceasefire in Geneva.
The security situation in Libya has been slowly improving since.
However, the UN recently warned that progress has stalled, notably on a key requisite of the polls — the pullout of all foreign soldiers.
Western leaders have repeatedly called on the foreign fighters to depart.
But Russian mercenaries supporting Haftar’s side in the east of the country are still in place.
Turkey meanwhile has troops in Tripoli, which it argues were sent under a bilateral agreement with the government, implying that they are not affected by a request for foreign troops to leave.
But any withdrawal is also a delicate balancing act, said Germany’s Maas.
“Foreign forces must leave the country in a gradual and uniform manner, so that there won’t be a sudden military imbalance that could be used by one side for a sudden offensive,” Maas told Die Welt newspaper.
A diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed the sensitivity of the situation, saying solutions could not be found overnight.
But he also voiced cautious optimism that some progress could be made on Wednesday, because it was in no one’s interest for conflict to break out again.
Jalel Harchaoui, Global Initiative senior fellow and an expert on Libya, also believed the talks could bring tangible help on the upcoming elections.
“Somebody could come up with a good idea of agreeing on a constitutional basis in July and be on course for elections in December,” he said, referring to a key requisite for the polls.
“I think there’s a good chance (for elections by year’s end) and the Berlin process could help.”
Libya’s unity government on Sunday reopened the coastal highway linking the country’s east and west, closed for two years due to fighting.
Announcing the implementation of another key step in a UN-led peace process, Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah said the move would help to “turn a page” after a decade of conflict.
The highway connects the war-torn North African country’s border with Tunisia to its frontier with Egypt.
A 300-kilometre stretch between the cities of Misrata and Sirte was cut off in 2019 as eastern-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize Tripoli.
On Sunday, Dbeibah, who took office in March to lead the country to elections in December, was joined by members of his administration in the town of Buwairat al-Hassoun for a ceremony to reopen the road.
The interim premier got behind the wheel of an excavator to shift sand on the western side of the road, which is still blocked in areas controlled by Haftar’s forces.
“The opening of the coastal road is significant and comes as the international community prepares to meet in Berlin,” the US embassy in Tripoli tweeted.
“Libyans and foreign powers alike should focus on encouraging stability through acts like allowing this road to remain open and paving the path for Libyans to have full control over their own affairs, including elections in December,” it added.
Libya was gripped by violence and political turmoil in the aftermath of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
In recent years the oil-rich North African country was split between two rival administrations backed by foreign forces and countless militias.
In October, after Haftar’s forces were routed from the country’s west, the two camps agreed a ceasefire in Geneva.
In February, delegates at UN-led talks also in Switzerland chose Dbeibah as interim prime minister, along with a three-member presidency council to help steer Libya towards the ballot box on December 24.
The reopening of the highway was at the heart of talks between a committee of military figures from the rival camps.
The other key issues discussed by the so-called 5+5 committee are the reunification of Libya’s armed forces and the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries.
But the presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries, estimated by the UN at 20,000, is widely perceived as a threat to the transition.
President Muhammadu Buhari says Nigeria is concerned about Libya’s stability because issues affecting the North African nation greatly impact the Lake Chad Basin, which in turn affects Nigeria.
The Nigerian leader said this on Wednesday when he hosted the Chairman, of the Presidential Council of Libya, Mohammed Younis Menfi, in Abuja.
“Republics of Chad, and Niger, have extensive borders with Libya, and they are our immediate neighbours,” Femi Adesina, one of the presidential spokesmen, quoted his principal as saying. “Whatever affects them affects us. The stability or instability of Libya will directly affect us.”
Pleased to host the Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, HE Mohammed Younis Menfi, today. Chad and Niger have extensive borders with Libya,and they are our immediate neighbours. Whatever affects them affects us. The stability or instability of Libya directly affects us. pic.twitter.com/njbtbggYpJ
President Buhari had repeatedly linked the renewed crime wave in Nigeria to instability in Libya.
“The problem of herders in Nigeria is a very long historical thing. The Nigerian herders don’t carry anything more than a stick and occasionally a matchet to cut down foliage and give it to their animals, these ones are carrying AK-47,” the 78-year-old said during a meeting with former US President, Donald Trump in 2018.
“So, people should not underrate what happened in Libya. 43 years of Ghaddaffi, people were recruited from the Sahel and trained to shoot and kill. With the demise of Ghaddaffi, they moved to other countries and regions and carried the experience with them.”
Buhari who swept to power on a three-pronged promise which included tackling insecurity and repositioning the country’s economy is also calling for cooperation among nations in the Sahel region in the battle against insecurity.
‘‘Our region is faced with difficult, several challenges that need the support and engagement of all to overcome,” he said on Tuesday at the opening of the Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC).
More than 50 people were missing Tuesday when their boat sank after leaving Libya heading to Europe, Tunisia’s defence ministry said, with 33 others rescued.
Defence ministry spokesman Mohamed Zikri said the survivors of the shipwreck were picked up after clinging to an oil platform off the southern coast of Tunisia.
“There are 33 survivors, all apparently from Bangladesh,” Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, told AFP. “At least 50 are missing.”
The boat, crammed with over 90 passengers, left the Libyan port of Zuwara on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear what caused the boat to sink, but vessels leaving the North African coast for Europe are often heavily overloaded makeshift crafts, departing at night even in rough weather to avoid detection from the coastguard.
Tunisian rescuers were bringing the survivors to the port of Zarzis, some 100 kilometres (70 miles) northwest of Zuwara.
“We don’t know the nationality of the more than 50 who are missing,” Di Giacomo added.
At least 1,200 migrants died in the Mediterranean last year, most of them crossing the central part of the sea, according to the United Nations.
Libya is a key gateway for Europe-bound migrants.
According to the IOM, more than 500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the shores of North Africa to Italy and Malta since the start of 2021.
On Monday, the Tunisian navy said it had rescued more than 100 migrants, mainly from Bangladesh and Sudan, whose boat was “on the verge of sinking”.
Several boats were also stopped by Libyan coastguards and brought back to shore overnight Sunday.
“Two days ago about 680 migrants were intercepted at sea and returned to Libya by the Libyan,” Di Giacomo said.
“Almost 9,000 have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya in 2021 so far,” he added.
Safa Msehli, IOM spokeswoman for the Geneva-based UN agency, said that support for search and rescue teams “should be contingent on no one being arbitrarily detained or subjected to human rights violations”, warning that “without such guarantees, such support should be reconsidered”.
The European Union has for several years supported Libyan forces to try to stem migration, despite often grim conditions in detention centres in Libya.
Libyan authorities have reported over 160,000 cases of the coronavirus among its seven million population, with 2,737 dead.
The country has been ravaged by a decade of violence since the toppling of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 revolt, leaving its health sector in a pitiful state despite its vast oil wealth.
The World Health Organization said Thursday that two new variants of the coronavirus are present in Libya.
The country has registered around 1,000 new cases per day in recent weeks, but the difficulty of obtaining a test means that the real numbers may be far higher.
Hospitals are often overcrowded and lacking in resources.
No lockdown measures are currently in place, and while masks are obligatory in public places, the measure is widely flouted.
Following an October ceasefire between warring powers in the east and west of the country, a new transitional government took office last month, with the aim of unifying Libya’s divided institutions and organising December elections.
Shortly before winning a vote of confidence, Dbeibah had vowed that access to coronavirus vaccines would be a priority for his administration.
A third later died in hospital, a source close to the minister said.
An AFP journalist heard an intense exchange of gunfire around 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) on the coastal road near Janzur on the eastern edges of Tripoli, which was later closed for an hour by security forces.
An interior ministry official confirmed that Bashagha was not harmed.
In a statement, the ministry said Bashagha had been targeted in an “assassination attempt as he returned from his residence in Janzur”.
It said the attackers had used an armoured Toyota truck armed with a machine gun.
Security forces responded and arrested the militants, but a guard was wounded in the attack, it added.
Bashagha, a heavyweight in Libyan politics and a champion of anti-corruption efforts, has stepped up efforts in recent months to absorb armed groups into state security forces, while trying to rein in those acting outside the state — a campaign rejected by some groups.
The 58-year-old has served as interior minister for the GNA since 2018 and had been a favourite to lead a new interim government under UN-led peace efforts following an October ceasefire last year.
The post finally went to businessman Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, a 61-year-old engineer, who has called for reconstruction, democracy and reunification in Libya.
– ‘Outrage’ – Libya has been riven by violence since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Two rival administrations, backed by an array of militias and foreign powers, have battled for control of the oil-rich country.
After pro-GNA forces last summer repelled a year-long offensive by eastern military chief Khalifa Haftar to seize the capital, a UN-backed ceasefire set the stage for talks aimed at reaching a political solution to a decade of conflict.
Dbeibah and a three-member presidency council, elected by UN-selected delegates at talks in Switzerland on February 5, are to lead the country towards elections set for December 24.
But while some have voiced hopes for meaningful peace talks, the apparent attempt on Bashagha’s life was a stark reminder of Libya’s precarious security situation and the sway of armed groups across the chaos-ridden country.
The US embassy in Tripoli voiced “outrage” at the attack, saying a member of Bashagha’s team had been wounded.
Bashagha’s “focus on ending the influence of rogue militias has our full support”, said ambassador Richard Norland.
The shooting came just days after Libyans marked the 10-year anniversary of Kadhafi’s overthrow.
Libya embarked Saturday on a new phase of its post-Kadhafi transition after the selection of a unity government to lead the country until December elections following a decade of chaos.
In a potential turning point accord widely welcomed by the international community, four new leaders from Libya’s west, east and south now face the task of unifying a nation torn apart by two rival administrations and countless militias.
Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, a 61-year-old engineer, was on Friday selected as interim prime minister by a forum of 75 Libyan delegates at UN-led talks in Switzerland, the culmination of a process of dialogue launched last November in Tunis.
It marked the start of a new chapter for the country after the failure of a 2015 UN-brokered deal that established a Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.
Libya has been mired in violent turmoil with the country riven by divisions between the GNA in Tripoli and a rival administration backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar in the east.
Acting UN envoy Stephanie Williams, who facilitated the week-long talks outside Geneva, said she was “pleased to witness this historic moment”.
“I do believe it is a breakthrough,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States welcomed the interim government, but cautioned it would “have to implement the ceasefire agreement” and offer essential public services to Libyans.
Hailing from the city of Misrata, Dbeibah had led the Libyan Investment and Development Company under dictator Moamer Kadhafi, who was toppled and slain in a 2011 revolution.
The wealthy businessman has 21 days to form a cabinet, with the period renewable for another three weeks to win a vote of confidence in parliament, by March 19 at the latest.
A three-member presidency council has also been chosen to head a unity administration and steer the North African state towards the ballot box on December 24.
The vote is part of a complex UN-led process aiming to build on a fragile ceasefire in force since October that has cleared the way for a resumption of oil exports on which the country is dependent.
– Scepticism – Libya has been devastated by civil war since the NATO-backed uprising against Kadhafi, during which the coastal city of Misrata was a flashpoint.
Mohammad Younes Menfi from eastern Libya, a former ambassador expelled by Greece in December 2019 in protest at an agreement between Tripoli and Ankara, is to head the presidential council.
His deputies are Moussa al-Koni, a member of Libya’s long-marginalised Touareg minority from the south of the country, and Abdallah Hussein al-Lafi, from the western city of Zuwara.
Analysts have expressed scepticism about the new accord in their initial forecasts.
“This new executive authority will have very little traction on the ground,” said Wolfram Lacher, a senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“They will find it very difficult to exert any influence in eastern Libya and even in western Libya, they will face quite a lot of opposition. So this is not a government that can unite Libya.”
Dbeibah was considered an outsider in the face of the camps of influential parliament speaker Aguila Saleh and powerful interior minister Fathi Bashagha.
Lacher said “the four people who were elected (Friday) don’t really have a common interest… other than getting to power and maintaining themselves in power”.
The selection also came as a surprise to Tarek Megerisi, policy fellow with the North Africa and Middle East programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“#Libya’s UN process careened over the line producing a new authority which frankly nobody would have expected,” Megerisi tweeted.
“This vote can be read as a vote against the favourites,” with Libyans long demanding an end to political elitism, corruption, economic mismanagement and poor public services.
Libyan envoys at UN-backed talks to end nearly a decade of war voted Tuesday to pass the mechanism to choose an interim executive to govern until polls in December, the UN said.
The UN called it a “significant step forward”.
Libya has been torn apart by civil war since the NATO-backed uprising that ousted long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, with an array of militias filling the vacuum and civilian bodies struggling to impose their authority.
But talks held in the Swiss city of Geneva have brought together 75 delegates — selected by the UN to represent a broad range of constituencies — in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).
“Following the agreement on a proposal for the selection mechanism of a unified executive authority… the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) conducted a one-day voting process,” the UN said, with the vote running from Monday to Tuesday.
A total of 73 percent backed the proposal.
“Libyans have now a genuine opportunity to move past their differences and divisions, (and) select a temporary government to reunify their institutions through the long-awaited democratic national elections” on December 24, interim UN envoy Stephanie Williams said.
The UN was “finalising the nomination procedure” and an election timeline, she added.
The UN-recognised Government of National Accord controls Tripoli and most of the west, while a rival administration dominated by military strongman Khalifa Haftar controls Benghazi and the east.
Both camps in Libya’s complex war have received extensive backing from foreign powers.
A fragile ceasefire between the two sides, agreed in Geneva last October, has largely held despite threats by Haftar to resume fighting.
On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed “tangible progress” made in recent months in Libya.
But Guterres also urged “regional and international actors to respect the provisions of the ceasefire agreement”, with its three-month deadline to withdraw foreign forces from Libya expiring on January 23.
The UN estimates there are still some 20,000 foreign forces and mercenaries in Libya helping the warring factions.
UN-led talks aimed at appointing an executive to help lead Libya out of a decade of conflict ended Sunday without discussing names, the world body said.
“We have agreed to reconvene in about a week in a virtual meeting (to) agree on the selection mechanism for the coming authority,” the UN’s interim Libya envoy Stephanie Williams told journalists.
But she said “no names… were discussed” during the meetings in neighbouring Tunisia.
Libya has been riven by conflict since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The latest phase in renewed efforts for peace in the North African country brought together 75 delegates selected by the UN to represent a broad range of constituencies.
They were charged with laying out a roadmap towards elections, setting the mandate of an interim executive, and naming its members.
But observers have criticised the way the delegates were chosen and cast doubts over their clout in a country where two administrations, as well as an array of armed groups and foreign powers, are already vying for power.
Libya is currently dominated by a unity government in Tripoli that emerged from previous UN-led talks in 2015, and its rival, the eastern-based House of Representatives elected the previous year and which never recognised the unity government.
In 2019, HoR-allied commander Khalifa Haftar, who was backed by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to seize Tripoli.
But after a year of bloody stalemate on the edges of the capital, his forces were repelled by pro-unity government forces boosted by Turkish military support.
Military talks led to a formal ceasefire deal in October, and recent developments on parallel economic and political tracks have raised hopes for progress.
Williams said Sunday she was “very pleased with the outcome” of the Tunisia talks.
– Foreign presence –
But observers have noted major obstacles to a lasting solution.
Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya specialist at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, warned that foreign interests could easily derail the process.
“The UN’s biggest difficulty is that there are permanent Turkish and Russian military bases and Emirati officers on the ground,” he told AFP.
But the UN’s former envoy to Libya and the architect of the current UN process, Ghassan Salame, told AFP on Friday he had higher hopes than ever for peace, citing “an accumulation of positive factors”.
He noted that Libyans were increasingly hostile to foreign interference and the presence of mercenaries.
Salame also said Turkey and Russia could see the fruition of infrastructure contracts worth billions of dollars, signed with the Kadhafi regime, but which Libyans were still keen to honour.
Williams on Sunday vowed to push onwards with the necessary steps for naming an interim executive.
But Harchaoui noted that for such an administration to be accepted, “there need to be named for each of the main posts.”
“Until this step is fulfilled, a deal won’t lead to anything concrete,” he said.
A shipwreck off the Libyan coast has killed 20 people, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said, just hours after news of a separate incident in which at least 74 migrants died.
MSF teams in the northwestern city of Sorman “assisted three women as the lone survivors of another shipwreck where 20 people drowned,” the group said Thursday on Twitter.
“Rescued by local fishermen, they were in shock and terrified; they saw loved ones disappear beneath the waves, dying in front of their eyes,” it added.
Earlier Thursday, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported “a devastating shipwreck which claimed the lives of at least 74 migrants today off the coast of Khoms,” a port city 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
It said that 47 survivors had been brought back to shore and 31 bodies retrieved, adding that the boat was reported to be carrying more than 120 people.
Bodies from that shipwreck were lined up grimly along the beach on Thursday, some still wearing life jackets.
Traumatised survivors sat in shock on the shore while others huddled under blankets as aid workers distributed food parcels.
The IOM said Friday that “many women and children” were aboard the two boats, adding that the body of a toddler was among those retrieved.
“Staff in the region reported that more bodies continued to wash ashore overnight,” the IOM added in a statement.
So far this year, more than 900 people have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach European shores, it said.
More than 11,000 others have been returned to Libya, it added, “putting them at risk of facing human rights violations”.
Human traffickers have taken advantage of persistent violence in Libya since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, turning the country into a key corridor for migrants fleeing war and poverty in desperate bids to reach Europe.
While many have drowned at sea, thousands have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard, which has been backed by Italy and the EU, and returned to Libya.
They mostly end up in detention, often in horrific conditions.
The IOM called for “a change of approach to Libya and the most dangerous maritime route on earth that ends the return of migrants to the country” and establishes “predictable safe disembarkation mechanisms”.