Tag Archives: Libya

Malta raises alarm on Russia in Libya

A Russia-backed Libyan warlord could start a “civil war” in Libya, increasing refugee flows to the EU, Malta has warned.

The danger comes as the Libyan commander, Khalifa Haftar, advances on Tripoli, the seat of the UN-recognised government, Malta’s foreign minister, George Vella, told press in Valletta on Friday (12 January).

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Hunting The World’s Most Wanted People Smuggler

Ermias Ghermay is a wanted man. Last year alone his gang is said to have made $10 million trafficking people to Europe. Alex Crawford reports from Libya.

The hunt for the world’s most wanted people smuggler took us through some of the most inhospitable places on Earth as well as some of the most dangerous.

Continue reading Hunting The World’s Most Wanted People Smuggler

Great-power politics – The new game

A CONTINENT separates the blood-soaked battlefields of Syria from the reefs and shoals that litter the South China Sea. In their different ways, however, both places are witnessing the most significant shift in great-power relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Syria, for the first time since the cold war, Russia has deployed its forces far from home to quell a revolution and support a client regime. In the waters between Vietnam and the Philippines,

America will soon signal that it does not recognise China’s territorial claims over a host of outcrops and reefs by exercising its right to sail within the 12-mile maritime limit that a sovereign state controls.

For the past 25 years America has utterly dominated great-power politics. Increasingly, it lives in a contested world. The new game with Russia and China that is unfolding in Syria and the South China Sea is a taste of the struggle ahead.

Facts on the ground

As ever, that struggle is being fought partly in terms of raw power. Vladimir Putin has intervened in Syria to tamp down jihadism and to bolster his own standing at home. But he also means to show that, unlike America, Russia can be trusted to get things done in the Middle East and win friends by, for example, offering Iraq an alternative to the United States (see article).

Lest anyone presume with John McCain, an American senator, that Russia is just “a gas station masquerading as a country”, Mr Putin intends to prove that Russia possesses resolve, as well as crack troops and cruise missiles.

The struggle is also over legitimacy. Mr Putin wants to discredit America’s stewardship of the international order. America argues that popular discontent and the Syrian regime’s abuses of human rights disqualify the president, Bashar al-Assad, from power. Mr Putin wants to play down human rights, which he sees as a licence for the West to interfere in sovereign countries—including, if he ever had to impose a brutal crackdown, in Russia itself.

Power and legitimacy are no less at play in the South China Sea, a thoroughfare for much of the world’s seaborne trade. Many of its islands, reefs and sandbanks are subject to overlapping claims. Yet China insists that its case should prevail, and is imposing its own claim by using landfill and by putting down airstrips and garrisons.

This is partly an assertion of rapidly growing naval might: China is creating islands because it can. Occupying them fits into its strategy of dominating the seas well beyond its coast. Twenty years ago American warships sailed there with impunity; today they find themselves in potentially hostile waters (see article).

But a principle is at stake, too. America does not take a view on who owns the islands, but it does insist that China should establish its claims through negotiation or international arbitration. China is asserting that in its region, for the island disputes as in other things, it now sets the rules.

Nobody should wonder that America’s pre-eminence is being contested. After the Soviet collapse the absolute global supremacy of the United States sometimes began to seem normal. In fact, its dominance reached such heights only because Russia was reeling and China was still emerging from the chaos and depredations that had so diminished it in the 20th century.

Even today, America remains the only country able to project power right across the globe. (As we have recently argued, its sway over the financial system is still growing.)

There is nevertheless reason to worry. The reassertion of Russian power spells trouble. It has already led to the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine—both breaches of the very same international law that Mr Putin says he upholds in Syria (seearticle).

Barack Obama, America’s president, takes comfort from Russia’s weak economy and the emigration of some of its best people. But a declining nuclear-armed former superpower can cause a lot of harm.

Relations between China and America are more important—and even harder to manage. For the sake of peace and prosperity, the two must be able to work together.

And yet their dealings are inevitably plagued by rivalry and mistrust. Because every transaction risks becoming a test of which one calls the shots, antagonism is never far below the surface.

American foreign policy has not yet adjusted to this contested world. For the past three presidents, policy has chiefly involved the export of American values—although, to the countries on the receiving end, that sometimes felt like an imposition.

The idea was that countries would inevitably gravitate towards democracy, markets and human rights. Optimists thought that even China was heading in that direction.

Still worth it

That notion has suffered, first in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the wider Middle East. Liberation has not brought stability. Democracy has not taken root.

Mr Obama has seemed to conclude that America should pull back. In Libya he led from behind; in Syria he has held off. As a result, he has ceded Russia the initiative in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s.

All those, like this newspaper, who still see democracy and markets as the route to peace and prosperity hope that America will be more willing to lead.

Mr Obama’s wish that other countries should share responsibility for the system of international law and human rights will work only if his country sets the agenda and takes the initiative—as it did with Iran’s nuclear programme. The new game will involve tough diplomacy and the occasional judicious application of force.

America still has resources other powers lack. Foremost is its web of alliances, including NATO. Whereas Mr Obama sometimes behaves as if alliances are transactional, they need solid foundations. America’s military power is unmatched, but it is hindered by pork-barrel politics and automatic cuts mandated by Congress.

These spring from the biggest brake on American leadership: dysfunctional politics in Washington. That is not just a poor advertisement for democracy; it also stymies America’s interest. In the new game it is something that the United States—and the world—can ill afford.

Libyan Militants Just Seized A Central Bank Branch With As Much As $100 Billion Inside


Fighters loyal to a renegade general in Libya just seized a Central Bank facility in the coastal city of Benghazi that houses a reported $100 billion in cash and gold, according to The New York Times.

Libya’s ongoing civil war has split the country between an Islamist-supported central government based in Tripoli and a rival nationalist administration held together by the renegade general Khalifa Hifter and based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

But the country had a couple of remaining bright spots, including Africa’s largest proven oil reserves, an oil industry positioned just across the Mediterranean Sea from western Europe, and a reported $113 billion in foreign currency, according to Al Hayat.

This was down from the $321 billion in reserves from before the country’s 2011 uprising but was still enough to ensure that salaries would be paid and that the country’s oil infrastructure would continue to function.

Those reserves are diminishing quickly. Earlier this month, an oil facility in Es Sider burned for several days after being struck by an errant rocket, wiping out oil stocks equivalent to more than 36 hours’ worth of nationwide production. And Thursday, Hifter’s fighters seized the Libyan central bank’s Benghazi branch and its reported $100 billion.

Libya FireStringer ./REUTERSThe fire in Es Sider in January. This hasn’t been a great month for Libya.

As David Kirkpatrick of The Times reported, the central bank was one of Libya’s last functioning public institutions. Its governor, Sadik el-Kabir, had traveled abroad to reassure foreign leaders of the integrity of the Libyan state during the ongoing crisis while the bank has succeeded in paying out salaries and keeping the country’s oil infrastructure functional. It has also kept its headquarters in Tripoli, despite the Benghazi branch’s presence in the part of the country controlled by Hifter’s self-declared government.

Even so, Kirkpatrick says, the Benghazi office had been considered to be outside of politics, and the various combatants in the city — which include a constellation of Islamist militias — had largely left the facility alone.

But Thursday, Hifter’s militia seized the building from the Tripoli-government-allied Islamists guarding it. According to the Times report, Hifter’s men have “posted video images online that appeared intended to show that they had not broken into the vaults, at least not yet.”

Hifter wants to let the government in Tripoli know that he could control most of the country’s remaining cash and gold reserves if he wanted to.

But in the process, he has shown that there is a highly vulnerable $100 billion payoff sitting in the middle of Benghazi’s stateless vacuum.

Greek oil tanker bombed in Libyan port of Derna

Libyan soldiers
The Libyan military has been battling Islamist militias, which have seized control of several cities

Military jets have attacked a Greek-operated oil tanker in the Libyan port of Derna, killing two crew members, the Greek authorities have said.

The attack, on Sunday, was carried out by the Libyan air force, a military spokesman was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

Derna has been controlled by Islamist militants for the past two years.

The Libyan military attacked the port several times last year in an attempt to weaken militant groups there.

The military spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Mesmari, said the tanker was “suspicious” and had been targeted because it had failed to submit to an inspection before entering the port.

No leakage

There were 26 crew members on board the ship, Araevo, including nationals from the Philippines, Greece and Romania.

Two were injured in the air attack, in addition to those killed.

The Liberian-flagged tanker is operated by an Athens-based shipping company, Aegean Shipping Enterprises Company, and was carrying 12,600 tonnes of crude oil.

The Greek authorities said the ship was at anchor in the port when it came under attack.

Map of Libya

Aegean Shipping said there was no leakage of oil and it was assessing the damage.

There has been no confirmation about the purpose of the ship’s visit to the militia-held area.

One report suggested the tanker was delivering fuel for power generators. Col Mesmari said the vessel had been bringing Islamist fighters to Derna.

“We had warned any ship not to dock at the port without prior permission,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying.


Libya has been in chaos since its long-time leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was overthrown with Western military help in 2011.

Numerous militias govern their own patches of territory, with successive governments struggling to exercise control.

The competition for power and resources has led to frequent fighting and battles to control facilities, including ports, linked to Libya’s oil industry.

The internationally recognised government is based in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, having been expelled from the capital, Tripoli, by militias in 2014.

A rival militia-backed administration now controls the capital while the second biggest city, Benghazi, is largely in the hands of Islamist fighters.

Egypt warplanes hit Libya militias, officials say

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 file photo, Libyan militias from towns throughout the country's west parade through Tripoli, Libya. The chaos unleashed...

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Egypt is deepening its involvement in the fight against Islamist militias who have taken over key parts of Libya, with officials saying Egyptian warplanes have bombed their positions in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The two officials, who have firsthand knowledge of the operation, said the use of the aircraft was part of an Egyptian-led campaign against the militiamen that will eventually involve Libyan ground troops recently trained by Egyptian forces.

The operation, they said, was requested by the internationally recognized Libyan administration based in the eastern city of Tobruk. That elected administration was thrown out of the capital, Tripoli, by rival militias allied with Islamic political factions.

A fővárost, Tripolit  is kontrolláló Fadzsr Líbia (Líbia Hajnala) milicistái Werszhfanától délre. 2014. október 13. Fotó: AFP - MAHMUD TURKIA

The officials said the operation also involves the use of an Egyptian navy vessel as a command center off the Mediterranean shore of Tobruk. Renegade Libyan general, Khalifa Hiftar, is not leading the operation, with Cairo dealing directly with a newly appointed Libyan chief of staff who has visited Egypt several times in recent weeks.

The operation was expected to last three to six months, said the officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Libyan lawmaker Tareq al-Jorushi confirmed to the AP that Egyptian warplanes were taking part in the ongoing operation in Benghazi, but said that they were being flown by Libyan pilots. He says the planes were “rented” by the Libyan administration from Egypt. Al-Jorushi is also a member of the national security committee in the Tobruk-based parliament.

In an official statement posted on the state-run news agency, Egyptian Presidency spokesman Alaa Youssef denied that Egyptian planes were striking targets in Libya.

Tobruk-based Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni told Dubai-based Sky News Arabia that all troops involved in the battles in Benghazi are under the command of the chief of staff and are instructed to restore state institutions and combat terrorism.

“After the appointment of the chief of staff for the Libyan army, all military operations are under the umbrella of the state and its military leadership,” he said.

Libya has been mired in turmoil since the ouster of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in 2011, with militias operating with impunity and the government unable to rein them in. In recent months, the militias in Tripoli and Benghazi swept through the two coastal cities, defeating anti-Islamist forces, setting up their own government and reviving an old parliament.

Egypt, which has publicly stated its support of the elected administration based in Tobruk, views the presence of hard-line extremists near its western border as a direct national security threat. It had made no secret of its willingness to offer military support to the Tobruk-based government, saying it would train and arm its forces.


Egypt’s direct military involvement, however, reinforces the notion that Libya has become a proxy battleground for larger regional struggles, with Turkey and Qatar backing the Islamist militias while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are supporting their opponents.

Earlier on Wednesday, a top Islamic militia commander based in Benghazi accused the Egyptian government of sending warplanes to hit his group’s positions.

View image on Twitter

“We have photographs of the Egyptian warplanes and Egyptian naval forces stationed in eastern cities,” he told the AP. He said the planes were taking off from an airport in Libya’s eastern city of Bayda.

“The Egyptians are bombing us day and night and only want to seed divisions among us here so people point guns at each other,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

U.S. officials confirmed in the summer that Egypt and the UAE were involved in airstrikes against militia positions in and near Tripoli. Egypt denied involvement, while the UAE said nothing publicly.

Wednesday’s airstrikes preluded what many believe to be a concerted push against the Benghazi militias, and Hifter has described the fighting as a “turning point” in his war against the Islamists.

How much mandate Hifter has over the operation is questionable since Egyptian officials insisted that he is out of the picture after earlier being beaten back by the militias.

Residents contacted by telephone said they saw warplanes striking camps of several Islamist militias fighting under an umbrella group called the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries.

Armed men have set up checkpoints and cordoned off their neighborhoods to prevent militias from using their districts as staging ground for attacks army forces, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

As night fell, there were conflicting reports over who controlled several military barracks.

An Islamist militia commander said that his group’s forces took over army barracks housing tanks and a second commander said that three people have been killed in the fighting so far, without saying which side had suffered the losses.

FILE - In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 file photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya. In eastern Libya, a new round o...


He says the takeover of the barracks came after an Islamist suicide bomber blew himself up at the camp gates. The commanders also spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

A Benghazi hospital official said that the death toll reached nine, mostly civilians.

A security official allied to Hifter denied the claim, saying that the general’s troops “liberated” one of the barracks controlled by “extremists,” killing a leading member of the Ansar al-Shariah militia.

Ansar al-Shariah was implicated in the deadly assault on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in 2012 which left four Americans dead, including the ambassador.

“I am in the street right now, with my colleagues, and Hifter’s forces are deployed to the center and engaged in fierce clashes,” said the official, who is a member of Benghazi’s official security body. He too spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. —- Michael reported from Cairo.

Libyan parliament takes refuge in Greek car ferry

Elyros car ferry in Tobruk

A Greek car ferry has been hired as last-minute accommodation for Libya’s embattled parliament, which has fled the country’s civil war to the small eastern town of Tobruk.

The 17,000-ton Elyros liner has been deployed, complete with its Greek crew, as a floating hotel for a legislature clinging to power in the Libyan city that is last stop before the Egyptian border.

Tobruk is no stranger to last stands. In the second world war, British and Commonwealth forces endured months of attacks from Erwin Rommel’s Africa Corps. Now the siege mentality is back.

Islamists and their allies have captured the capital, Tripoli, and most of Benghazi, the country’s second city. Derna, the next town up the coast, has been declared an Islamic caliphate and the front line begins at Tobruk airport, where pickup trucks mounting anti-aircraft guns face out into the shimmering empty desert.

The small port is home to what remains of Libya’s sovereign power. On one side of the bay, sitting on sandy bluffs, a hotel conference hall acts as chamber to the house of representatives, ringed by troops in sandy-coloured US-made Humvee troop carriers.

On the other, moored to a quay, is the white gleaming bulk of the Elyros, which usually plies it trade carrying cars and passengers between Greece and Italy, looming over a collection of grey naval patrol boasts.

“We had only three days to prepare everything in Tobruk, to find spaces for meetings, places to stay, internet, everything,” said Dr Muftah Othman, head of the town’s election commission. “If there is no ship, where will you stay?”

The mood on board is sombre. An escalator, switched on only for important guests, heads up above the car deck to restaurants and bars with bright lights and almost no people.

Children of the parliamentarians who have fled with them play in the corridors while clusters of officials and women in shawls cluster around the tables, where they are served Pepsi and orange juice by the bemused crew in immaculate white uniforms.

“It is unusual, yes,” says one steward. “The Libyans are very polite. We are here one week, maybe we stay months, we don’t know.”

Nor do Libya’s parliamentarians. The small Libyan army is reeling from hammer blows from its foes. “We need time to build up our army and security and to develop our skills to run the country,” says deputy speaker Mohammed Ali Shuhaib.

In one way, time is on the government’s side. Weeks of fighting have seen it lose major cities but it still has control of Libya’s vast foreign reserves abroad and oil fields at home. Hold the line, the theory goes, and parliament can build its army while Islamist forces diminish.

But in another way, time is running out, with Libya’s conflict already shaping up as a regional war. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the big Gulf players, have each taken a side, Qatar for the Islamists, the Emiratis for the nationalists.

Pentagon sources say the UAE and Egypt have launched air strikes against Libya Dawn, while Sudan is flying in weapons for the Islamists, making parliament’s job of finding middle ground all the harder.

In Tobruk, cohesion is parliament’s problem. The Islamists are not the biggest faction in Libya – they captured Tripoli after suffering catastrophic defeats in June’s elections – but they are the most cohesive. The tribes ranged against them are fractured along ancient fault lines, some dating back centuries.

Uniting those tribes, then persuading at least some Islamists to end their boycott of the chamber, is likely to determine whether Libya’s three-year experiment with democracy succeeds or fails.

Publicly, politicians are upbeat. “They should know, the people who are not coming, that we accept them,” says Amal Bayou, a microbiologist and one of 32 female MPs.

“If they [Islamists] are against the parliament, they can say it here, they should know there is a place for them.”

But MP numbers are falling. It is supposed to have 200 members, but some seats are unfilled, some boycotted, and a mixture of intimidation and logistical problems have seen attendance dwindle to 115, dangerously close to the point where credibility will drain away.

UN envoy Bernard Leon, arriving on Monday for his first visit, insisted he was optimistic. “This is a country, a society, that is fed up with conflict,” he said. “We are going to spend the week developing contacts with the stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, across Libya those stakeholders continue pummelling each other. Tripoli, occupied by Islamist-led Libya Dawn, is suffering power and water cuts. Human Rights Watch reported this week on house-burnings and attacks on ethnic minorities and journalists across the capital.

Without the means to counterattack, or much sign of international support, Libya’s parliament clings on in Tobruk, its eyes on the Elyros, wondering if it will end up being less a floating hotel than a lifeboat.

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