Libya strife to 'escalate in next few days,' officials warn OFWs

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 22 2019 10:03 AM | Updated as of Apr 22 2019 10:26 AM

Members of the the Libyan internationally recognised government forces take position during the fighting with the Eastern forces in Ain Zara, in Tripoli, Libya April 21, 2019. Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters

MANILA -- A battle for the Libyan capital is expected to "escalate in the next few days," a Philippine official warned Monday, urging overseas Filipino workers there to take the government's offer to bring them home. 

At least 220 people have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded as eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces sought control of Tripoli from an internationally recognized government, the World Health Organization said.
 
Last week, a Filipino was wounded in a rocket attack in a Tripoli neighborhood while mortars struck a hospital that employs 18 Filipino nurses, said Elmer Cato, the country's diplomatic representative in Libya. 
 
Only 40 Filipinos have taken the government's repatriation offer, he told radio DZMM. 

"Please seriously consider our offer to bring them home while we still can. We think the situation will escalate in the next few days," said the official. 

"If the fighting enters Tripolo proper, the capacity of the Embassy to get out people will be limited. We might not be able to get them until the situation stabilizes," he added. 

Libya may be placed "any time" under alert level 4, which warrants mandatory evacuation, from the current level 3 or voluntary repatriation phase, said Cato. 

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The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, he said, will give financial assistance to displaced workers. 

The government can also "easily provide" alternative employment opportunities to OFWs from Libya, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said. 

Libya is home to around 1,000 Filipinos, according to a Department of Affairs bulletin released earlier this month. Many of the OFWs there are nurses or workers in oil fields, Cato said. 

Strongman Khalifa Haftar's self-proclaimed LNA, galvanized by victories in its eastern stronghold and in the country's desert south, announced an offensive early this month to seize the capital from the UN-recognized administration of Fayez al-Sarraj. 

But his forces have faced fierce resistance from armed groups backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), including powerful factions from the western city of Misrata.
 
The bloodshed has derailed efforts to bring peace to a country where jihadists and people smugglers have exploited the chaos unleashed by the NATO-backed overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

With a report from Agence France-Presse