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Libya Force Pushes to Western City     01/26 09:31

   CAIRO (AP) -- Officials from Libya's two rival governments said fighting 
erupted Sunday as the country's east-based forces advanced toward the strategic 
western city of Misrata, further eroding a crumbling cease-fire agreement 
brokered earlier this month.

   The clashes came just hours after the United Nations decried "continued 
blatant violations" of an arms embargo on Libya by several unspecified 
countries. The violations fly in the face of recent pledges to respect the 
embargo made by world powers at an international conference in Berlin last week.

   Libya sits on Africa's Mediterranean coast, and is divided between rival 
governments, each supported by various armed militias and foreign backers. It 
has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world and the biggest oil 
reserves in Africa.

   The weak but U.N.-recognized government in the capital Tripoli is backed by 
Turkey, and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy. Rival forces loyal to military 
commander Khalifa Hifter receive support from the United Arab Emirates and 
Egypt, as well as France and Russia.

   Hifter's forces were advancing some 120 kilometers (around 75 miles) east of 
Misrata, near the town of Abugrain, according to the media office of militias 
allied with the Tripoli government. It said clashes were still taking place in 
the outskirts of Abugrein.

   An official with Hifter's forces said they have wrested control of two 
towns, Qaddaheya and Wadi Zamzam, on their way to Abugrein. The official spoke 
on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

   Misrata, in western Libya, is the country's second largest city and is home 
to militias who oppose Hifter and have been extremely important in the 
government's defense of Tripoli. Hifter's forces have laid siege to the capital 
since last April. The nationwide truce, brokered by Russia and Turkey, marked 
the first break in fighting in months, but there have been repeated violations.

   Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at The Netherlands Institute of 
International Relations, said Hifter's swing toward Misrata was a tactic 
calculated to draw away the Misratan militias defending the capital toward 
their hometown. He said it had a "good chance of succeeding" and weakening the 
U.N.-government's defenses in Tripoli as a result.

   Hifter's forces captured Sirte earlier this month, a major below to 
Tripoli-based administration. Sirte is located about 370 kilometers (230 miles) 
east of Tripoli.

   Late Saturday, the U.N. support mission in Libya released a statement saying 
"several (countries) who participated in the Berlin Conference" have been 
violating the arms embargo. 

   "Over the last ten days, numerous cargo and other flights have been observed 
landing at Libyan airports in the western and eastern parts of the country 
providing the parties with advanced weapons, armored vehicles, advisers and 
fighters," the U.N. statement said.

   Among those who attended the Berlin conference were Russian President 
Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President 
Emmanuel Macron, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Italian Premier 
Giuseppe Conte, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

   The peace push followed a surge in Hifter's offensive against Tripoli, which 
threatened to plunge Libya into chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted 
and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

   Earlier this month, powerful tribal groups loyal to Hifter also seized 
several large oil export terminals along the eastern coast as well as southern 
oil fields. The closure of Libya's major oil fields and production facilities 
has resulted in losses of more than $255 million in the six-day period ending 
Jan. 23, the country's national oil company said Saturday. 


(KR)

 
 
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