Eastern Libya forces will not allow the United Nations to use the only functioning airport in the capital Tripoli, a spokesman for the group that has been trying to capture the city from the internationally recognized government said on Wednesday.
The U.N. earlier warned flight restrictions by commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces known as Libya National Army (LNA) were hampering humanitarian and mediation efforts in the oil producing country embroiled in a conflict between loose alliances from western and eastern Libya since 2014.
The LNA, which is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, has been trying since last April to take Tripoli but has failed to breach the city’s defences.
But it has air superiority thanks to UAE-supplied combat drones, which cover the whole of Libya via a satellite link, a U.N. report said in November.
LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi that the United Nations would have to use other airports such as Misrata because it could not guarantee the safety of flights into Tripoli Mitiga airport as Turkey was using it as a base.
Turkey has supplied combat drones to Tripoli operating in the past out of Mitiga and also sophisticated air defences for the capital.
The U.N. mission in Libya (UNSMIL) earlier said the LNA had in the past three weeks several times blocked U.N. flights carrying staff to and from Libya.
A humanitarian source said that Haftar was imposing a “no-fly zone” for Tripoli and there were concerns that U.N. flights could be a possible target.
U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame has been mediating between Haftar and the Tripoli government.
Relations have been difficult as UNSMIL has condemned air strikes blamed on the LNA, though mostly without mentioning the force by name.
Ties worsened when the U.N. said in a report last month that Haftar’s main stronghold Benghazi had turned into a “hub for illicit economic activities, including the sale of drugs and arms.” The U.N. also criticized activities of armed groups in western Libya.
The LNA’s Mismari again accused Salame of being biased against the LNA, a charge denied by the United Nations.
UNSMIL has a base in Tripoli and also provides humanitarian relief for migrants and people displaced by the conflict with about 170 staff spread between Libya and neighbouring Tunisia.