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UN pulls staff from Libya as deadly fighting closes airports

© AFP | A charred aeroplane lies on the ground at Tripoli International Airport.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-15

The United Nations on Monday pulled its staff out of Libya where at least 13 people have been killed in fighting in the eastern city of Benghazi and in the capital, Tripoli, forcing the closure of the country’s remaining international airport.

The fighting between liberal and Islamist militias came after a June general election mired by fraud allegations intensified a struggle for power between rival armed groups that has wracked the North African oil producer ever since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

"UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya) temporarily withdrawing staff from Libya because of security situation," the mission, which already pulled out dozens of personnel last week, said in a statement.

"After the latest fighting on Sunday and because of the closure of Tripoli international airport, the mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work ... while at the same time ensuring the security and safety of its staff," it said.

"This is a temporary measure. Staff will return as soon as security conditions permit. The United Nations, which stood by the Libyan people in their revolution in 2011, will not abandon them as they seek to build a democratic state."

Only escape route via Tunisia

The control tower of the airport was damaged when several Grad rockets hit the airport, a Libyan official said. A Reuters reporter at the scene heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons.

The closure of the airport effectively leaves Libya with no international flights, meaning people wishing to leave the country must instead make an arduous road journey to Tunisia.

The severing of links to the outside world comes amid the worst violence the country has seen for six months.

Security and medical sources said at least six people have been killed and 25 wounded in clashes in Benghazi, while at least seven have been killed in Tripoli.

Most of the dead and injured were civilians, according to security and medical sources at Benghazi hospital. At least 10 houses were hit with missiles and government offices and banks were forced to close.

Western powers fear chaos in Libya will allow arms and militants to flow across its borders. The south of the vast desert country has become a haven for Islamist militants kicked out of Mali by French forces earlier this year.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-07-15

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