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Libya's 'last chance' peace talks produce more talks

Bernardino Leon has been trying to get all sides to talk [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 January, 2015

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Libya's two rival governments and the armed militia alliances supporting them have agreed to a roadmap in UN-brokered talks before the country descends into chaos. More talks follow next week.

Libya's warring factions and two rival governments have agreed on a roadmap to form a unity government after two days of UN-brokered talks in Geneva - seen as the last chance to prevent the country from deteriorating into further chaos.

They will continue negotiations in Geneva next week.

"The participants agreed after extensive deliberation on an agenda that includes reaching a political agreement to form a consensual national unity government and the necessary security arrangements to end the fighting," a UN statement said.

It said the talks "were constructive and... reflected the participants' sincere commitment to reach common ground".

Libya has been gripped by conflict since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with two rival governments backed by armed allied groups fighting for control of cities and key oil terminals.

The UN special envoy to Syria, Bernardino Leon, had warned at the start of the talks that they were a last-ditch effort to prevent Libya from all-out chaos.

     Participants agreed to return to Geneva next week.
- UN statement



The internationally recognised government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani and the elected House of Representatives have been based in Tobruk in the far east of the country since the Islamist alliance, Libya Dawn, took over Tripoli in the summer, set up its own government and reinstated the former parliament, the General National Congress (GNC).

A delegation from the House of Representatives and parties allied to Tripoli attended the talks in Geneva, but some important representatives from Libya Dawn and the GNC refused to participate, casting doubt over efforts to form a unity administration.


The agreement

"Participants agreed to return to Geneva next week for a new round of dialogue after holding the necessary consultations," the UN statement statement said.

"The mission and the participants expressed their hope that all the invited representatives, including those who did not attend this round, would take part in the talks next week."

   What's going on in Libya?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remains the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya is limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya remains torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias change frequently, which only adds to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.



The participants called on all players to cease hostilities and create a conducive environment for the dialogue. Those at the talks "expressed their unequivocal commitment to a united and democratic Libya governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights".

They also agreed to work towards the release of abducted people, allowing humanitarian aid to reach affected regions, opening airports and securing land and maritime navigation.

The agreement saw the different factions pledge to work towards ensuring the free movement of people across the divided nation, and promise to respect the legitimacy of state institutions, work towards the peaceful transfer of power and reject violence and terrorism.

Islamism

A major concern in Libya is the proliferation of Islamist militias in key areas such as Benghazi. Those militias are led by the Ansar al-Sharia group, blacklisted by the UN for its links to al-Qaeda.

The Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria is also thought to have gained a foothold in eastern Libya.

Leon underscored the threat of Libya becoming a hotbed of Islamist insurgency, saying teh phenomenon menaced North Africa, the Middle East, the Sahel and Europe, which lies on Libya's doorstep.

Jihadists are reported to have set up camps in Libya, including in the remote southern desert, to train militants to fight in Mali, Iraq or Syria.

The head of Libya's Tobruk-based government has pleaded for more international help to fight militias by the lifting of an arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council at the start of the anti-Gaddafi uprising in 2011.

"In Libya, the government and armed forces are battling these groups alone, without any support from the international community," Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani told AFP in an interview just before the Geneva talks.

The agreement came after months of UN efforts to get the opposing sides back to the negotiating table after a single round of talks in September.

Even while the parties came to an agreement, the UN refugee agency said an upsurge in fighting since the start of this year across several towns in the east, including the second city of Benghazi, had sparked further displacement.

"In Benghazi alone, the local council is reporting that around 90,000 people are unable to return home," it said, adding that number of people displaced nationwide was approximately 400,000.

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