May 8, 2019 / 3:12 PM / 2 months ago

Libyan PM meets Macron, shell hits migrant centre

TRIPOLI, May 8 (Reuters) - Libya’s internationally-recognised prime minister met French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday after an air strike hit a migrant detention centre overnight even as the month-long battle for Tripoli slowed during Ramadan.

With foreign powers aghast at the latest flare-up in Libya, in turmoil since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi, Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj met Macron in Paris.

There was no immediate readout from either side.

France has in the past been supportive of eastern Libyan forces commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched an assault on Serraj’s forces in early April under the banner of combatting terrorism and bringing order.

With Haftar’s troops bogged down in southern outskirts, fighting has been raging though the night but slowing in the day as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began this week.

Overnight, there was shelling on a camp of pro-Serraj fighters, witnesses said. Shrapnel struck the roof of a nearby migrants’ detention centre in the eastern suburb of Tajoura.

Though nobody was wounded at the centre, frightened migrants - rounded up mainly from sub-Saharan African nations and hoping to reach Europe by sea - pleaded for help.

“We have almost lose hope in our life,” one migrant at the centre told Reuters, declining to give his name. “You know Libya for now is not safe. War here is too much. Please, we need help.”

HUNDREDS DEAD AND INJURED

The Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) charity said a hole was blown open in a hangar housing women, nearly hitting one infant. “How many more lives must be threatened before these vulnerable people are evacuated out of #Libya?” it tweeted.

The fighting has killed 443 people and injured another 2,110, with tens of thousands also forced out of their homes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The conflict has threatened to disrupt OPEC member Libya’s oil shipments, fuel migration to Europe, and encourage jihadists to exploit the power vacuum as the parallel administrations in east and west face off against each other.

It has also frozen a United Nations’ peace plan for Libya, and exposed divisions in Europe and the Gulf.

Haftar, a former general in Gaddafi’s army who later turned against him, enjoys the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. He also received military support from France which helped him take over the eastern city of Benghazi in 2017.

France has denied it supports the Tripoli offensive, but has echoed Haftar’s rhetoric in saying terrorists need to be fought.

Serraj, whose supporters say Haftar is a would-be dictator in the same mould as Gaddafi, met Macron after also visiting Germany and Italy. (Additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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