Moscow suspects ‘deliberate provocation’ in Libya massacre, calls warring parties to order

Russia has condemned the recent spike of violence in Libya where over 140 troops and civilians were reportedly slaughtered in an attack on the Brak Al-Shati airbase. Moscow called it a “deliberate provocation” intended to disrupt the peace process.

“Moscow is very concerned about the recent outbreak of violence in Libya,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

On May 18, 141 people were killed after clashes broke out at the Brak al-Shati airbase between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and a rival Third Force militia loyal to the UN-backed government.

Based on witness testimonies, Human Rights Watch said “soldiers from the 13th Battalion aligned with the GNA Defense Ministry attacked the base... and executed troops from the 12th Battalion of the Libyan National Army (LNA).”

The soldiers were executed by gun shots to the head, HRW said. It added that some corpses, which also included civilians, had their arms bound while others were disfigured in a manner which suggested their heads had been run over by a vehicle.

“The killings of dozens of people, including civilians, must be condemned,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, after assessing the disturbing reports. 

The country descended into chaos following the assassination of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddaf and has long been divided between the Tobruk-based parliament and the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

Moscow says the new spiral of violence threatens to undermine the fragile peace deal which was reached earlier this month between the head of Libya's UN-backed government Fayez al-Sarraj and general Khalifa Haftar, head of the LNA.

The attack on the airbase “looks like a deliberate provocation, intended to disrupt the May 2 Abu Dhabi agreements between the leaders of Libya’s east and west and to reduce to zero the emerging prospects for the intra-Libyan settlement in general.”

Moscow urged the sides to continue “inclusive dialogue” on the basic agreements reached. In December 2015, the warring parties signed the Libyan Political Agreement – the Skhirat agreement – accepting to establish a Government of National Accord (GNA).

The Russian ministry also called on all sides to refrain from violence.

“We repeat our insistent calls to all Libyan sides to refrain from the use of force, from unilateral actions that may further escalate the feud, which is harmful to Libyan statehood,” the statement reads.

The ministry also urged all parties to prevent the “illegal armed formations engaged in subversive activities to the detriment of the country’s territorial integrity and unity” from overwhelming the political process in Libya.

The power vacuum in the country, which emerged after the disastrous NATO-led military intervention in 2011, has been exploited by terrorist groups. These include Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) offshoots who have been lending support to some of the extremist factions within the country.

Observers have expressed concern that the May 18 massacre and ongoing clashes at the airbase may lead to more bloodshed which could escalate into a full scale civil war.

“That’s not a kind of incident that will bring an end to the conflict. It will really inflame further conflict, perhaps reprisal attacks,” Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch told RT.

“I’m afraid that the violence is getting out of hand and the worrying thing is that this may slide towards real civil war,” Oliver Miles, former UK ambassador to Libya told RT.

Miles stressed that because of the power vacuum in Libya, the UN still can’t really influence the situation in a country that is in chaos.

“The UN is not in control... unfortunately, nobody is in control... that is really the problem. There are a lot of armed groups which are not under control,” the retired diplomat said.

“They form alliances... they formed two broad alliances which are fighting each other in a fairly limited ways, and the risk is that they will fight each other more equally. And if they have more arms, they will do so with more casualties,” Miles said.

Goldstein said that while an investigation into the attack has formally been announced he doubted if the probe will lead to justice.

“Investigations are announced and go nowhere,” Goldstein said, adding, that if the perpetrators are punished, people might start feeling “accountable for their actions and it may change the course of things.”

“But until now what we’ve seen is just continuing impunity for these kinds of attacks,” he added.