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U.N. Envoy To Libya On Situation On The Ground


Fighting continues in Libya as different groups battle for control of the country's capital. In the last week alone, thousands of people there have been forced from their homes. And the U.N. estimates that at least 75 people have died and hundreds have been wounded. Ghassan Salame is the U.N. envoy to Libya and joins me from Tripoli.

Good morning.

GHASSAN SALAME: Good morning.

PFEIFFER: Could you tell us what are you seeing there in terms of what kind of fighting and what kind of impact on civilians?

SALAME: Unfortunately, we have seen a few violations of international humanitarian law. A school was hit yesterday in an area called Ain Sara. And already, eight ambulances have been hit since the beginning of the conflict. So we had, today, to remind everybody that these are serious violations of international law and that we are documenting them.

PFEIFFER: The general behind this attack has the support of countries, including not just Egypt and the United Arab Emirates but a Western country, France. How does that complicate the situation?

SALAME: The past week has been quite clear for that. I mean, when you have divisions in the international community, it shows immediately. And it has a very negative effect on the ground.

PFEIFFER: And didn't France block an effort by the EU to issue a statement condemning the general?

SALAME: France was not on the same line like the other members. And in the Security Council, it was Russia who also was not happy with the draft for a presidential statement of the Security Council.

PFEIFFER: And so what does that leave your options as? In terms of what the U.N. can do to try to broker peace, what do you feel like is left for you to do?

SALAME: On the political level, we are trying to bring the two sides to agree on a ceasefire. However, both sides are putting conditions for this ceasefire. The government in Tripoli wants, as a precondition, a retreat via Mr. Haftar's forces while Mr. Haftar doesn't accept this condition.

PFEIFFER: Do you think that Haftar's troops are getting support from other countries in terms of money and/or equipment and arms?

SALAME: Everybody's getting support from outside, including Mr. Haftar, of course.

PFEIFFER: About a year ago, you had said that it was extremely difficult getting consensus and even trying to figure out what would the roadmap forward be. Did you see this coming?

SALAME: Well, we have been trying, yes, to avoid that. That's why we accelerated our political process. We pushed for a national conference that was supposed to take place today. I was so happy, until 10 days ago, that all those Libyan forces invited have all accepted to come and attend. Unfortunately, this attack has compelled us, three days ago, to postpone that meeting because it's very, very hard to discuss and negotiate and agree while the fighting is taking place.

PFEIFFER: There have been protests in Tripoli requesting that the U.N. mission leave Libya. It seems like a loss of trust or a loss of belief that the U.N. can do anything. How do you try to win that trust back?

SALAME: I don't think there is a loss of trust. I think that people are somehow disappointed with the fact that in 2011, there has been a military action, basically allowed by the U.N. but operated by NATO, in order to give a push to those who are in a state of rebellion against Mr. Gadhafi. What Libyans do not understand is that the international system has changed dramatically since then. The Security Council is now in a configuration that does not allow for a resolution similar to the one that was taken then. This is what some Libyans have difficulty understanding.

PFEIFFER: That's Ghassan Salame. He's the U.N. envoy to Libya. Thanks for talking with us.

SALAME: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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