U.S. adds Turkey to list of countries implicated in use of child soldiers

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday added Turkey to a list of countries that are implicated in the use of child soldiers over the past year, placing a NATO ally for the first time in such a list, in a move that is likely to further complicate the already fraught ties between Ankara and Washington.

The U.S. State Department determined in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) that Turkey was providing “tangible support” to the Sultan Murad division in Syria, a faction of Syrian opposition that Ankara has long supported and a group that Washington said recruited and used child soldiers.

In a briefing call with reporters, a senior State Department official also made a reference to the use of child soldiers in Libya, saying Washington was hoping to work with Ankara on the issue to address it.

“With respect to Turkey in particular…this is the first time a NATO member has been listed in the child soldier prevention act list,” the State Department official said. “As a respected regional leader and member of NATO, Turkey has the opportunity to address this issue, the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Syria and Libya,” he said.

Turkey has carried out three cross-border operations in Syria against the so-called Islamic State, as well as U.S.-backed Kurdish militia and has frequently used factions of armed Syrian fighters on top of its own forces.

Some of these groups have been accused by human rights groups and the United Nations of indiscriminately attacking civilians and carrying out kidnappings and lootings. The United Nations had asked Ankara to rein in these Syrian rebels while Turkey rejected the allegations, calling them ‘baseless.’

Turkey has also been involved in the Libyan conflict. Ankara’s support has helped the Tripoli-based government reverse a 14-month assault from eastern forces backed by Egypt and Russia.

Governments placed on this list are subject to restrictions, according to the State Department report, on certain security assistance and commercial licensing of military equipment, absent a presidential waiver.

It was not immediately clear whether any restrictions would automatically apply to Turkey.

It was also not immediately clear if the placing of Turkey on this list would have an impact on its ongoing negotiations with the United States to run Afghanistan’s Kabul airport once Washington withdraws its troops.

Turkey has offered to guard and run Hamid Karzai airport after NATO’s withdrawal and has been holding talks with the United States on logistic and financial support for the mission.

The mission could be a potential area of cooperation between Ankara and its allies amid strained ties, as the security of the airport is crucial for the operation of diplomatic missions out of Afghanistan after the withdrawal.

To carry out this task, Ankara has sought various financial and operational support, and President Joe Biden, in a meeting last month with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had said that U.S. support would be forthcoming, Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan had said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

Scottish court upholds Libyan Lockerbie bomber’s conviction

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – A Scottish court rejected on Friday an appeal to overturn the conviction of a now-deceased Libyan man found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing which killed 270 people.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, an intelligence officer who died in 2012, was jailed for life in 2001 for the murder of 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 residents of the Scottish town in the deadliest militant attack in British history.

In March, an independent Scottish review ruled that his family could launch a third appeal due to a possible miscarriage of justice. But on Friday, five judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland rejected that.

“The bombing of Pan Am 103 is, to this day, the deadliest terrorist attack on UK soil and the largest homicide case Scotland’s prosecutors have ever encountered in terms of scale and of complexity,” said Lord Advocate James Wolffe, Scotland’s chief legal officer.

“The evidence gathered by Scottish, U.S. and international law enforcement agencies has again been tested in the Appeal Court and the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi stands.”

Megrahi’s son Ali said the family were heartbroken and planned to appeal to the UK Supreme Court, their lawyer Aamer Anwar said. “He maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya,” Anwar said.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988 en route from London to New York, carrying mostly Americans on their way home for Christmas.

After years of wrangling and sanctions against Libya, Megrahi and a second man Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima went on trial before Scottish judges at a special court in the Netherlands.

Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum 27 years, while Fahima was found not guilty.

RELEASED

Megrahi, who denied involvement in the attack, died in Libya in 2012 after being released three years earlier by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds due to prostate cancer.

Former leader Muammar Gaddafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the bombing in 2003 and paid compensation to families, but did not admit personally ordering it.

However, Megrahi’s family and some relatives of the Scottish victims have always doubted his guilt and Libya’s responsibility, and say the truth has yet to come out.

At hearings in November, the family’s lawyers argued his conviction had rested on flawed evidence, saying prosecutors had failed to prove a link between clothing in the suitcase carrying the bomb and Megrahi.

Last month, the United States unsealed criminal charges against a third alleged conspirator Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, a former senior Libyan intelligence official currently in Libyan custody.

The Justice Department accuses Masud of carrying the bomb from Libya to Malta in a suitcase and setting its timer.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by William James and Andrew Cawthorne)

U.S. charges Libyan man in 1988 Pam Am Flight 103 bombing

By Mark Hosenball and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Monday unsealed criminal charges against a third alleged conspirator in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people.

The Boeing 747 exploded and killed 190 Americans. “No amount of time or distance will stop the United States and our Scottish partners from pursuing justice in this case,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr told a news conference Monday.

The suspect, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, a former senior Libyan intelligence official, is charged with two criminal counts related to the bombing. He is in Libyan custody, Barr said Monday, and U.S. officials are hopeful that Libya will allow Masud to be tried in the United States.

The Justice Department said Masud worked in various capacities for Libyan intelligence, including as a technical expert in building explosive devices from approximately 1973 to 2011. It also alleged Masud was involved in the 1986 bombing of the LaBelle Discotheque in West Berlin, Germany that killed two U.S. service members.

In 1991, two other Libyan intelligence operatives were charged in the bombing: Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah.

Megrahi was found guilty in Scotland of the Lockerbie bombing in 2001 and freed in 2009 on compassionate release grounds before dying of cancer in 2012.

Barr said the breakthrough that led to Masud’s charges came after law enforcement learned in 2016 that the third alleged conspirator “had been arrested after the collapse of the Qaddafi regime and interviewed by a Libyan law enforcement officer in September 2012.”

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

U.S. military says Russia deployed fighter jets to Libya

TUNIS (Reuters) – The U.S. military said on Tuesday that Russia has deployed fighter aircraft to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for eastern forces, adding to concerns of a new escalation in the conflict.

“Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fire,” the United States Africa command said in a statement it posted on its website and on Twitter.

Libya’s civil war has drawn in regional and global powers with what the United Nations has called a huge influx of weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.

Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt support the eastern-based Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which launched an offensive last year to seize the capital Tripoli.

However, in recent weeks the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has with extensive Turkish backing pushed Haftar back from his foothold in southern Tripoli and from some other parts of the northwest.

The United States has played a less prominent role in the Libyan war than it did at an earlier stage when NATO helped rebels overthrow the country’s autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

The statement said the aircraft had arrived from an airbase in Russia after transiting via Syria, where they were repainted to conceal their Russian origin. There was no immediate response from the Russian Defence Ministry to a request for comment.

On Saturday, Russian fighters in Libya were flown out of a town south of Tripoli by their Libyan allies after retreating from frontlines in Tripoli, the town’s mayor said.

The LNA has denied any foreigners are fighting with it, but the United Nations said this month that Russian private military contractor Wagner Group had up to 1,200 people in Libya.

“Russia has employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford Moscow plausible deniability of its malign actions,” the U.S. statement said.

It quoted U.S. Air Force General Jeff Harrigian as warning that if Russia seized bases on Libya’s coast, it would “create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank”.

The statement said neither the LNA nor mercenaries would be able to “arm, operate and sustain these fighters” — meaning fighter aircraft — without the support they had from Russia. Last week the LNA announced it would be launching a major new air campaign against the GNA and said it had refurbished four war jets.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Additional reporting by Andrew Osborne in Moscow; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

Putin proposes 2020 summit with leaders of Russia, France, China, U.S. and UK

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday proposed holding a summit between the leaders of Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain in 2020 to discuss the conflict in Libya and other global problems.

Putin, who was speaking during a trip to Israel, said Moscow was ready for a “serious conversation” with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, that there was much to discuss and that the summit could happen anywhere in the world.

“In any country, at any point of the world that is convenient for our colleagues. Russia is ready for this kind of serious conversation,” he said.

“There are many tasks before us. We discussed one of them very recently in Berlin…That is Libya. And we need to return to this problem at the Security Council and adopt the corresponding resolution,” he said.

Putin, who was in Israel on Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, said holding such a summit would be an important symbolic step ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

“We discussed (this) with several colleagues and as far as I understand in general we saw a positive reaction to holding a meeting of the heads of the permanent members of the UN Security Council…” he said.

(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Oil rises as Libya declares force majeure in oilfields

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose to their highest in more than week on Monday after two large crude production bases in Libya began shutting down amid a military blockade, risking reducing crude flows from the OPEC member to a trickle.

Brent crude <LCOc1> was up 59 cents, or 0.9%, at $65.44 by 1442 GMT, having earlier touched $66 a barrel, its highest since Jan. 9.

West Texas Intermediate <CLc1> was up 39 cents, or 0.7%, at $58.93 a barrel, after rising to $59.73, the highest since Jan. 10.

Two major oilfields in southwest Libya began shutting down on Sunday after forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar closed a pipeline, potentially cutting national output to a fraction of its normal level, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) said.

NOC declared force majeure on crude loadings from the Sharara and El Feel oilfields, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The closure, which follows a blockade of major eastern oil ports, risked taking almost all the country’s oil output offline.

However, the earlier rise in oil prices eased after some analysts and traders said supply disruptions in Libya will be short-lived and could be offset by other producers, limiting the impact on global markets.

“The oil market remains well supplied with ample stocks and a healthy spare capacity cushion. In other words, the bullish price impact may prove to be fleeting,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.

Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, added: “We expect the current scale of outages to be fairly short-lived… as there is limited upside for Haftar to slow the country’s oil revenues to a trickle.”

“The current closures are clearly a power play aimed at boosting Haftar’s leverage amid international efforts to broker peace in the country.”

Foreign powers agreed at a summit in Berlin on Sunday to shore up a shaky truce in Libya, which has been in turmoil since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

If Libyan exports are halted for any sustained period, storage tanks will fill within days and production will slow to 72,000 barrels per day (bpd), an NOC spokesman said. Libya has been producing around 1.2 million bpd recently.

“A prolonged disruption from Libya would be enough to swing the global oil market from surplus to deficit in (the first quarter of 2020),” said ING analyst Warren Patterson.

Meanwhile in Iraq, another major oil producer, two police officers and two protesters were killed as anti-government unrest resumed after a lull of several weeks.

However, production in southern oilfields was unaffected by the unrest, officials said.

Market activity was thin on Monday on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the United States.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Additioanl reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Louise Heavens and Jan Harvey)

U.S. launches strike in southern Libya as U.N. warns of escalation

By Aidan Lewis

CAIRO (Reuters) – U.S. forces said on Wednesday they killed 11 suspected militants in their second air strike in a week near the southern Libyan town of Murzuq, as the U.N. envoy warned of a growing risk of armed escalation and rights abuses in the country.

The strike comes as rival factions have been locked in a battle around the capital Tripoli, about 500 miles (800km) to the north, which forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to capture since April.

The U.S. attack, carried out on Tuesday deep in Libya’s southern desert, followed a Sept. 19 strike that the U.S. said had killed eight suspected militants.

“This air strike was conducted to eliminate ISIS (Islamic State) terrorists and deny them the ability to conduct attacks on the Libyan people,” Major General William Gayler, director of operations for U.S. Africa Command, said in a statement.

Some Islamic State militants retreated south into Libya’s desert as the group lost its stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte at the end of 2016.

The U.S., which has carried out occasional strikes in desert areas, has said it will not allow militants to use the fighting around Tripoli for cover.

The offensive on Tripoli by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) upended U.N.-led plans to broker a political settlement in Libya and soon stalled in the capital’s outskirts.

The conflict has spread outside Tripoli, with air and drone strikes against the port city of Misrata, Sirte, and Jufra in central Libya, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

It had also triggered a “micro-conflict” in Murzuq, where more than 100 civilians are reported to have been killed over the past two months, he said.

“The conflict risks escalating to full-blown civil war,” Salame said by video link. “It is fanned by widespread violations of the U.N. arms embargo by all parties and external actors.”

“Serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law have been committed with total impunity, including increased summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment as well as conflict-related sexual violence.”

Libya has been divided between rival factions based in Tripoli and the east since 2014, three years after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule.

Haftar’s LNA is battling forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA), which was set up in 2016 following a U.N.-brokered deal.

Haftar’s foreign backers include the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, who diplomats and analysts say are vying for influence in the oil-rich nation with regional rivals Turkey and Qatar.

At least 128,000 people have been displaced by the fighting since April, according to U.N. estimates.

(Reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Mortars land on Tripoli suburb as two-week battle rages on

Members of Libyan internationally recognised government forces look for cover during the fighting with Eastern forces at Al-Swani area in Tripoli, Libya April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

By Hani Amara and Ahmed Elumami

AL-SUANI, Libya (Reuters) – Mortars crashed down on a suburb of Tripoli on Thursday, almost hitting a clinic and adding to people’s suffering after two weeks of an offensive by eastern troops on the Libyan capital, which is held by an internationally recognized government.

The shelling came a day after seven people were killed when Grad rockets hit a densely populated district of Tripoli, which the eastern Libyan forces of commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to take, deepening the chaos that has plagued the oil-producing nation since 2011.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) of Benghazi-based Haftar has become bogged down in the southern suburbs of the capital.

In al-Suani, a southwestern suburb, Reuters reporters saw two mortars almost hitting a clinic. The fighting has killed 205 people, including 18 civilians, and wounded 913 since the start of the campaign, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Locals blamed Haftar’s forces for the shelling, saying the rockets had been fired from the direction of his positions south of the capital.

“We say to the United Nations and the Security Council: listen. Listen to the bombing… Rockets are coming down on us. For this reason, please find a solution for us,” said Youssef Salem, a displaced man from al-Suani.

The LNA has denied shelling residential areas.

The Tripoli government issued arrest warrants for Haftar and other top eastern officials, blaming them for Wednesday’s shelling.

Eastern officials have already issued arrest warrants for Tripoli premier Fayez al-Serraj and other western officials as there is no sign of a political solution or even of a ceasefire.

Foreign powers are worried but unable to present a united front over the latest flare-up in the cycle of anarchy and warfare that has gripped Libya since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

The internationally recognized interior ministry accused France of supporting Haftar and said it would halt security cooperation with Paris.

“Any dealings with the French side in bilateral security agreements” will halt, the Tripoli-based interior ministry said in a statement.

A French presidential source said in response to the accusation that France supported the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and that Emmanuel Macron’s legitimate interlocutor was Serraj, with whom he spoke on Monday and reaffirmed that.

The French government was not immediately available for comment.

France has helped train Serraj’s presidential guard and in October 2013 signed a deal between a consultancy of the French interior ministry and the Libyan interior ministry to train 1,000 police.

Most recently in February, France provided the Tripoli government with six patrol boats for its coastline.

Paris has given Haftar support in the past, however, viewing him as the best bet to end the chaos that has reigned since a NATO-backed rebellion to end Gaddafi’s murderous four-decade rule.

Italy, with considerable oil interests in the OPEC member, supports the Tripoli government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and was furious with French reluctance to back a recent European Union resolution urging Haftar to halt his advance.

The conflict threatens to disrupt oil flows, foment migration across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, and allow jihadists to exploit the chaos.

Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who view him as an anchor to restore stability and combat Islamist militants.

His forces came under attack on Thursday by an armed group at the Tamanhint base near the main southern city of Sabha.

The LNA managed to expel the attack, which killed two of its soldiers, an eastern official said. But it exposed a vulnerability as Haftar has moved much of its forces north.

The identity of the attackers was not immediately clear.

The LNA force seized earlier this year the south and its two oilfields, although tribesmen with flexible loyalties remain strong in the sparsely populated desert region.

On the weekend, the LNA dispatched a unit to the eastern oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider to prepare for a possible attack there.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli, Ahmed Elumami, Ulf Laessing, John Irish and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson)

U.N. Security Council considers demanding Libya ceasefire

FILE PHOTO: Libya's eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar attends General Security conference, in Benghazi, Libya, October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori/File Photo

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council is considering a British-drafted resolution that would demand a ceasefire in Libya and call on all countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance.

Diplomats from the 15-member council are due to meet later on Tuesday to discuss the text that also calls for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya, which has been gripped by anarchy and conflict since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

The latest flare-up began almost two weeks ago – during a visit to the country by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – when eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to the outskirts of the capital Tripoli.

Haftar’s forces predicted victory within days, but Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s internationally-recognized government has managed to bog them down in southern suburbs with help from armed groups from various western Libyan factions.

The Security Council informally expressed concern on April 5, calling on all forces to de-escalate and halt military activity and specifically calling out the LNA.

However, in the following days the council was unable to issue a more formal statement, diplomats said, as Russia objected to a reference to the LNA, while the United States said it could not agree a text that did not mention Haftar’s forces.

The draft U.N. Security Council resolution, seen by Reuters, expresses “grave concern at military activity in Libya near Tripoli, which began following the launching of a military offensive by the LNA … and threatens the stability of Libya.”

It also demands that all parties in Libya immediately de-escalate the situation, commit to a ceasefire, and engage with the United Nations to end hostilities.

Diplomats said the draft text could be put to a vote as early as this week. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass.

Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who view him as an anchor to restore stability and combat Islamist militants, while western powers support Serraj.

The draft U.N. text “calls upon all member states to use their influence to ensure compliance with this resolution.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alistair Bell)

East Libyan warplanes hit Tripoli government positions

Troops from eastern Libyan forces are seen in Ain Zara, south of Tripoli, Libya April 11, 2019. Picture taken April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

By Ulf Laessing and Ahmed Elumami

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces bogged down in street battles in a push to seize the capital Tripoli deployed warplanes on Friday to hit several government positions, as more civilians fled the fighting.

More than 1,000 people gathered in central Tripoli to demand that Khalifa Haftar stop the advance of his Libyan National Army (LNA) on the coastal city of about 1.2 million people.

Haftar launched the campaign a week ago, in the latest conflict in a cycle of anarchy since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

But forces loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s internationally recognized government have so far kept them at bay, with fierce fighting around a disused former airport about 11 km (7 miles) from the center.

On Friday, an LNA warplane bombed the camp of a force allied to Serraj in Zuwara, west of Tripoli toward the Tunisian border, an LNA military source and residents said.

Zuwara is near the Mellitah oil and gas plant, jointly operated by Italy’s ENI and state oil firm NOC, which supplies Italy with gas through the Greenstream pipeline.

An LNA warplane also attacked the only partly-functioning airport in Tripoli, Mitiga, where anti-aircraft opened fire in response, witnesses said. The extent of damage and possible casualties in both places was not clear.

A week of battles has killed 75 people – mainly fighters but also 17 civilians – and wounded another 323, according to latest U.N. tallies. Some 9,500 people have also been forced out of their homes.

As the sound of fighting echoed around their city, residents sought to maintain some normality on Friday.

Some families were eating in cafes next to the fish market where people were stocking up for the weekend.

“We have got used to wars. I fear only in God,” said Yamim Ahmed, 20, who works in a fast food restaurant.

More than 1,000 people staged a protest in Martyrs Square in central Tripoli to demand an end to the offensive, witnesses said. The turnout was bigger than last Friday.

As well as the humanitarian cost, the conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, increase migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper a U.N. peace plan, and allow Islamist militants to exploit the chaos.

CITY STALEMATE

Haftar, 75, a former general in Gaddafi’s army who later joined the revolt against him, moved his troops out of their eastern stronghold to take the oil-rich, desert south earlier this year, before sweeping up to Tripoli at the start of April.

But Serraj’s government has managed to halt for now the advance, helped by forces with machine-guns on pickups and steel containers across the road into Tripoli. The Tripoli government says it has taken nearly 200 prisoners from Haftar’s forces.

The United Nations, which had hoped to organize a national conference this month bringing the rival eastern and western administrations together to organize an election, has called for a ceasefire. The United States, G7 bloc of wealthy nations and European Union have also urged the LNA to halt its offensive.

Tripoli-based Foreign Minister Mohamed Siyala urged the U.N. Security Council to call on Haftar to halt the advance.

The U.N. health agency said it fears outbreaks of tuberculosis, measles and diarrhea due to poor sanitation, especially among those displaced.

Five ambulances have been hit trying to extract wounded people from the conflict zone, World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Dr Syed Jaffar Hussain also told a Geneva news briefing from Tripoli.

The WHO said it had only two weeks of medical supplies available for Tripoli’s hospitals.

Haftar casts himself as a bulwark against Islamist militancy who wants to restore order to Libya. But opponents see him as a potential would-be new dictator like Gaddafi.

He has so far resisted U.N. pressure to accept a power-sharing settlement, using his leverage as an ally of the West in attempts to stem jihadists in North Africa.

About 1,500 refugees and migrants are trapped in detention centers, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said. “They must be urgently brought to safety. Simply put, this is a matter of life or death,” Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

Libya is a major transit point for migrants pouring into Europe in recent years, mostly trafficked by smuggling gangs.

(Additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi, Ahmed Salem in Tripoli, Tom Miles, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Cawthorne)