The 15-nation council met to discuss Libya just days after its parliament – replaced in June – reconvened and chose an Islamist-backed deputy as the new prime minister. That left the country with two rival leaders and assemblies, each fronting armed factions.
“The situation in Libya is complicated,” Libya’s United Nations Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi told the council.
But he said it became more so on July 13, when heavy fighting broke out in the capital, Tripoli, between rival militias vying for control of Libya’s main airport. At least seven people were killed and all flights were halted.
“The situation might unravel into a full-blown civil war if we’re not very careful and wise in our actions,” Dabbashi said.
An election in June had been intended to rebuild state institutions and quell the violence that has spread since the August 2011 ouster of long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The dictator was fatally wounded that October.
The recent fighting is part of growing turmoil in Libya, the North African oil producer, where the government is unable to control battle-hardened militias that helped to overthrow Gaddafi but continue to defy state authority.
“I had always excluded the possibility of civil war, but the situation has changed,” Dabbashi said.
“In the past, security incidents were limited, isolated and rare,” he added. “But today the clashes that took place around Tripoli … [were] between two armed groups using heavy weaponry. Each group had its own allies scattered in the other regions of the country.”
Arms embargo tightened.
On Wednesday, in response to the increasing chaos, the council passed a resolution that tightens the arms embargo on Libya and extends sanctions to groups and individuals that threaten the country’s peace and stability.
Libya’s government has called for a U.N. peacekeeping force to be deployed to help disarm militant groups and restore stability. But council diplomats say the situation is too volatile for peacekeepers.
The outgoing U.N. special envoy to Libya, Tarek Mitri, said the worsening security situation was of “grave concern.”
“The threat from the spread of terrorist groups has become real,” he told the council. “At present, the chaotic security situation and the very limited capacity of the government to counter this threat may well have created a fertile ground for a mounting danger in Libya and beyond.”
Dabbashi did not mention mysterious airstrikes against Libyan Islamist militants that U.S. officials had suggested were staged by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Mitri referred to them in passing, saying that since his last council briefing on July 17 “armed battles, inflamed by airstrikes, continued almost uninterrupted in Tripoli, Benghazi and other parts of the country.”
Most countries have evacuated their nationals and diplomats from Libya in recent months.