The United Nations announced Saturday a new round of peace talks between Libya's warring factions in Geneva next week, as the European Union warned the country was at a "crucial juncture".
The United Nations announced Saturday a new round of peace talks in Geneva next week between Libya’s warring factions, as the European Union warned the country was at a “crucial juncture”.
It came as fighting between troops and Islamist militia killed 13 people in eastern Libya.
“This dialogue is an important opportunity for the Libyans to restore stability and prevent the country’s slide towards deeper conflict and economic collapse that should not be missed,” the UN mission in Libya said.
UN envoy Bernardino Leon has proposed a freeze in military operations for a few days “in order to create a conducive environment for the dialogue,” the UN statement said.
Leon had earlier urged a resumption of talks “before it is too late”.
The talks are aimed at reaching an agreement on the formation of a unity government and to create “a stable environment” for the adoption of a new permanent constitution, the statement said.
“Discussions will also seek to put in place the necessary security arrangements in order to bring an end to the armed hostilities raging in different parts of the country,” it added.
It did not give a specific date for the talks.
The announcement came after Leon held talks for the first time Thursday with General Khalifa Haftar, who is spearheading a government-backed offensive to recapture the second city of Benghazi from mainly Islamist militia.
Leon also met with representatives of Libya’s internationally recognised government, which has taken refuge in the remote east, and with rival officials in the militia-held capital Tripoli.
– ‘Last chance’ –
More than three years after dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a Western-backed revolt, the North African nation is engulfed in chaos with rival governments and parliaments as well as powerful militias fighting for territory.
The Islamic State (IS) group that has seized large areas in Iraq and Syria is also thought to have gained a foothold in eastern Libya, and recently claimed to have executed two Tunisian journalists there.
The European Union said the Geneva meeting “represents a last chance which must be seized”.
“Libya is at a crucial juncture; the different actors should be in no doubt of the gravity of the situation that the country finds itself in. The opportunity to establish a ceasefire and find a political solution should not be wasted,” said Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat.
A new round of talks had been scheduled for December 9 but was repeatedly delayed as fighting intensified between the internationally recognised government and Islamist-backed militias.
Leon chaired a first round of talks between rival lawmakers in the oasis town of Ghadames in September.
The UN Security Council warned the following month that it would impose sanctions on any party that undermined the process.
Difficulties finding a safe venue for the talks contributed to the delay to the new round, the UN said.
The Islamist-backed militia alliance that controls the capital and Libya’s third largest city Misrata launched an offensive last month to try to capture the country’s main eastern oil export terminals.
Loyalists of the internationally recognised government responded with their first air strikes on Misrata.
On Saturday, five soldiers and eight Islamist militants were killed in fighting in Ain Marah, near the far eastern Islamist bastion of Derna, a government spokesman said.
The United Nations says that since fighting intensified in May, hundreds of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands more have fled their homes.
Libya’s neighbours, fearful of a spillover of the violence, have repeatedly called for international intervention.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the Libyan capital in October for a trip aimed at bolstering talks between political parties.