Libyans marked 10 years yesterday since the start of the uprising that toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, ending a long dictatorship but throwing the country into a decade of violent lawlessness.
In western Libya, festive crowds gathered in public squares to watch anniversary fireworks, military parades and speeches.
In the east, ruled by a rival authority bitterly opposed to the armed groups dominating the west, the mood was more sombre. Residents of Zawiya, near the capital Tripoli in the west, marched on the city centre where dozens of rebel fighters were executed in 2011 after being surrounded by Gaddafi’s forces.
Flags hung from buildings still bearing the scars of mortar and small arms fire.
Those marks “will stay, so we don’t forget what happened here,” said Mofida al-Romeih, who lost two brothers and a cousin in the massacre.
The commemorations came as the UN steps up efforts for a peaceful resolution to the bitter conflict that has divided the country since Gaddafi’s ouster and killing in the Nato-backed uprising.
UN envoy Jan Kubis met Libyan leaders Tuesday on his first visit to the North African nation since taking up the post.
He stressed the importance of consolidating a fragile October ceasefire between the country’s warring alliances in the east and west, a UN statement said.
He also called for a “smooth transition of power” following talks in Switzerland which resulted in the formation earlier this month of a new interim executive authority tasked with leading the country to elections in December.
UN chief Antonio Guterres, in phone calls with Libya’s newly appointed leaders Tuesday, called for all foreign troops and mercenaries to leave, his spokesman said.
While the streets of western Libyan cities were decked out with lights and banners, commemorations were low-key in the east, where an administration backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar holds sway.
Even in the region’s main city Benghazi — where the revolution began 10 years ago — no official events were planned, despite authorities declaring yesterday a national holiday.
“Going out to celebrate...would be mad because the revolution has been a catastrophe that has wrecked years of stability,” said Khamis al-Sahati, an eastern-based activist.
But people gathered in the streets of Benghazi in small groups, some carrying national flags.
Others clutched photographs of loved ones lost in violence. The defeat of a push on Tripoli by Haftar’s forces in June last year led to the progress in
UN-backed talks on a settlement.
But much of Libya remains in the hands of a mosaic of neighbourhood militias born out of the rebel groups that toppled Gaddafi.
Some stand accused of war crimes that have gone unpunished because of the militias’ importance to the rival alliances in power in Tripoli and Benghazi.
“Justice has yet to be delivered to victims of war crimes and serious human rights violations including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, forced displacement and abductions committed by militias and armed groups,” human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.
On the international level, many of the foreign forces whose intervention helped fuel the conflict of recent years remain in Libya.
“The secretary-general stressed the UN’s support to Libya’s elections, the monitoring of the ceasefire and the need for withdrawal of foreign forces,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
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