France said Monday its troops south of Libya are ready to strike extremists crossing the border, but the speaker of Libya’s internationally recognized parliament rejected any Western military intervention in his country.
International concern has been mounting over Libya, which is mired in its worst fighting since Western and Gulf-backed rebels overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi and killed him in 2011.
Today two rival governments are each backed by an array of militias fighting it out across the country, and extremists in the east have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
U.N.-sponsored talks between the rival governments did not take place Monday as scheduled.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said recent development on the ground “have not been conducive in any way to holding a dialogue.” He said the U.N. is urging the rival governments to agree on the timing and a venue “that complies with the necessary security requirements.”
French President Francois Hollande urged the United Nations to take action to stem growing violence in the North African country and the transit of arms from Libya to militant groups around the Sahel region.
“We are making sure to contain the terrorism that took refuge there, in southern Libya. But France will not intervene in Libya because it’s up to the international community to take its responsibility,” Hollande said Monday on France-Inter radio.
While he ruled out unilateral intervention inside Libya, he said French forces will strike Islamic extremists “every time they leave these places where they are hiding.”
To do that, France is setting up a military base in northern Niger, 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the lawless Libyan border region. About 200 troops are deployed in the desert outpost at Madama. French and U.S. drones are already operating out of Niger’s capital, Niamey.
African leaders urged Western countries to intervene in Libya at a security summit in Dakar last month. On Monday, Libyan leaders called on the Arab League for help but rejected armed Western intervention.
“I call formally on the Arab League to intervene to protect the vital installations in all of Libya and to prevent all these terrorist formations from using violence,” Libyan parliament speaker Aqila Issa told reporters in Cairo after a meeting on the subject.
“Foreign military intervention in Libya is rejected. If we need any military intervention, we will ask our Arab brothers,” he added.
Issa did not elaborate on what type of aid he sought, but the Arab League, which supports the internationally recognized government based in the eastern city of Tobruk, called for a U.N. arms embargo to be lifted.
“We are now talking about how to restore security and stability in Libya and lift the embargo on arming the Libyan army in a way that will stabilize security,” Deputy Secretary General Ahmed bin Helli said.
Mohammed Bazzaza, spokesman for the internationally-recognized government, told the Dubai-based al-Hadath TV station that his government welcomes international cooperation to fight terrorism, but did not mention outright military intervention.
French airstrikes helped drive Gadhafi from power. Later, French troops largely expelled al-Qaida-linked insurgents from northern Mali in 2013, with some fleeing to Libya. France has now launched a military operation against Islamic extremists in five of its former colonies in the Sahel region, with 3,000 troops, 200 armored vehicles and six fighter jets in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mali.
In the time since Gadhafi’s overthrow, rival militias widely believed to be backed by regional powers have fought for control of Libya. An alliance of Islamist and other militias captured the capital Tripoli last year and revived an earlier government and parliament.
The Tripoli government accuses Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates of backing its rivals in Tobruk, including by carrying out airstrikes. The Tobruk government says Turkey and Qatar back Islamist militias.
Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman said the bombing of a Greek-owned tanker at an eastern city controlled by Islamist extremists Monday by fighter jets from the internationally recognized government “underscores the need for all parties to reach an agreement.” Libyan and Greek officials said two crew members were killed and two wounded.