Opposing factions in Libya’s parliament held what the United Nations hailed as “positive” talks Monday on ending a split which has left the violence-plagued country with rival governments.
UN mission chief Bernardino Leon, at the end of the two-hour meeting, said the factions had “agreed to start a political process and to address all issues in a peaceful way with a very strong call for a complete ceasefire.”
Although no formal accord was announced, Leon said the dialogue had been “very constructive and very positive”, and that it would resume after the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha which starts on Friday in Libya.
The hard-won gathering held in the remote oasis town of Ghadames, 600 kilometres (370 miles) southwest of Tripoli and close to the Algerian and Tunisian borders, was the result of marathon shuttle diplomacy by Leon.
The meeting, which finally started at 3 pm (1300 GMT) after a five-hour delay, sent “a strong message of unity to the Libyan people”, the UN official said in an opening address.
Government representatives from Britain and Malta, Libya’s close Mediterranean neighbour, attended the closed-door meeting.
The majority faction in the legislature elected on June 25 has been meeting in the far eastern town of Tobruk near the border with Egypt since Islamist militia and their allies took control of most of the capital last month.
The minority faction stayed in Tripoli and has boycotted the Tobruk sessions.
The Tobruk-based government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani is internationally recognised but Libya’s three main cities are almost entirely outside its control.
The Islamists and their allies have established a rival government in Tripoli headed by Omar al-Hassi, and have reconvened the previous legislature which they dominated.
The UN-brokered dialogue aims to reach a “framework agreement on the rules of procedures” for parliament and another on “the critical issues relating to the governance of the country”, the UN mission said earlier this month.
The mission said it hopes the two sides will also agree a date and venue for a ceremony during which the previous parliament would transfer power to the internationally recognised legislature.
“Agreement on these points will allow for future discussions on the critical issues of governance and the political transition and full normalisation of institutions and the country,” it added.
Libya has been in turmoil ever since the NATO-backed uprising which ousted and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 with a myriad of former rebel militias vying for power.
In May, renegade general Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive against Islamists in the eastern city of Benghazi, including the jihadist Ansar al-Sharia group.
There has been almost daily fighting between Haftar’s forces and the militias, which now control nearly all of Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 uprising.