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Conflict in Libya risks undetected and out-of-control spread of coronavirus

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya | | Updated: 2020-03-25 23:06
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FILE PHOTO: Members of Red Crescent spray disinfectants, as part of precautionary measures against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at government offices in Misrata, Libya March 21, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

On Tuesday, the war-torn state or Libya confirmed its first case of coronavirus that has so far infected more than 2,000 people in Africa and killed over 50, raising fears of a catastrophe as the country's healthcare system has already been ruined by years of conflict.

The announcement came hours after Stephanie Williams, the acting special representative of the secretary-general and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, warned that the continuation of fighting in the country risks an undetected and out-of-control spread of novel coronavirus.

"Despite the calls by many UN member states, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (or UNSMIL) and the Secretary-General for an immediate cessation of hostilities to enable joint approaches to the coronavirus pandemic, armed clashes, shelling, and mobilization of forces in Libya continue, with unacceptable disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the civilian population," he said.

Williams called on all parties to the conflict in Libya to respect international human rights and humanitarian law, to abide by the commitments they have made publicly to halt all military operations, and to put the interests of their people and communities first, above any other considerations.

He urged authorities across Libya to release all prisoners who are arbitrarily detained, and consider releasing pre-trial prisoners, in particular, women, children, persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees, in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.

William strongly condemned Tuesday's repeated shelling in the Ain Zara neighborhood, including the Al Rwemi prison, reportedly by forces affiliated with the Libyan National Army.

He said the attacks have resulted in a number of injuries, reportedly including inmates, prisoners and judicial police officers.

"In the past 48 hours, UNSMIL documented more than 13 violations of the humanitarian pause, which resulted in the killing of at least three civilians and injuries to others," Williams said on Tuesday.

The Acting SRSG called for an immediate halt to the shelling on the prison and the area where the prison is located, to avoid mass casualties among prisoners and prison guards.

On Saturday, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, called on Libya's Tripoli-based government and the Libyan National Army (LNA) to accept the draft ceasefire agreement emanating from the 5+5 Joint Military Commission talks facilitated by the United Nations in Geneva last month.

In a statement, Guterres said he hoped that the humanitarian pause will be translated into a lasting ceasefire.

Since last April, the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, based in the capital, has been engaged in conflict with the self-styled Libyan National Army.

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