The United Nations Security Council will meet in an emergency session later on Wednesday after an airstrike on a migrant detention centre in Libya left at least 40 people dead and more than 130 wounded.
UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame has condemned the attack releasing a statement that the strike “clearly amounts to the level of a war crime”.
The airstrike hit a detention centre for mainly African migrants in a suburb in the Libyan capital Tripoli – the highest publicly reported death-toll from an airstrike or shelling since eastern forces under rogue commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive against the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
In a statement, Salame said the absurdity of the on-going war had now reached its most heinous and tragic outcome with what he called a “bloody and unjust slaughter”.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said this was second strike on the centre during recent fighting, despite the coordinates of its location having been communicated to the warring sides.
Libya is a main departure point for African migrants fleeing to Europe with many detained in government-run detention centres often under inhumane conditions.
UN Secretary General condemns horrendous attack on African migrant centre in Tripoli Libya, expresses “outrage” after more than 40 migrants, including women & children killed. Calls for independent investigation. UN Security Council to meet later Wednesday #sabcnews
— Sherwin Bryce-Pease (@sherwiebp) July 3, 2019
US urges talks to end conflict
The United States on Wednesday condemned as “abhorrent” an air strike in Libya that killed more than 40 migrants as it urged talks to resolve the country’s conflict.
“This tragic and needless loss of life, which impacted one of the most vulnerable populations, underscores the urgent need for all Libyan parties to de-escalate fighting in Tripoli and return to the political process,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
Tajoura detention centre
Around 600 migrants and refugees were held in the Tajoura detention centre, the head of the compound Noureddine al-Grifi said, adding that people were wounded in another hangar.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) denounced the attack as a “heinous crime” and blamed it on the “war criminal Khalifa Haftar”, who launched in early April an offensive to seize the capital.
But Wednesday evening a spokesman for the strongman said “the (pro-Haftar) forces deny their responsibility in the attack on the migrant centre of Tajoura”.
Ahmad al-Mesmari blamed the attack on the GNA.
The European Union — as well as Turkey and Qatar — called for an independent probe, while France urged a “de-escalation” and the Arab League a “halt” to fighting between Haftar and GNA forces.
“Those responsible should be held to account”, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn and migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement.
The UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are seen as Haftar’s key supporters while he accuses Turkey and Qatar of supplying weapons to his rivals.
The GNA accused pro-Haftar forces — who control much of eastern and southern Libya — of having carried out a “premeditated” and “precise” attack on the migrant centre.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
The suburb of Tajoura, which has several military sites belonging to pro-GNA armed groups, is regularly targeted in air raids by Haftar’s forces.
“Migrants and refugees must NOT be detained; civilians must NOT be a target; Libya is NOT a safe place of return” for migrants and refugees, the head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi tweeted.
UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley said in Geneva the agency had asked to have the centre evacuated a few weeks ago after “a near miss from a similar air strike”.
The centre was thought to have been used to store weapons, he added.
The UN’s mission in Libya has said around 3,500 migrants and refugees held in detention centres near the combat zone are at risk.
Wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising against dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya has become a major conduit for migrants seeking to reach Europe.
Rights groups say migrants face horrifying abuses in Libya, which remains prey to a multitude of militias vying for control of the oil-rich country.
The plight of migrants has worsened since Haftar launched the offensive against Tripoli.
More than 700 people have been killed and 4,000 wounded since the assault began in early April, while nearly 100,000 have been displaced, according to UN agencies.
The two rival camps accuse each other of using foreign mercenaries and enjoying military support, especially air, from foreign powers.