Libya peace talks resume without key faction

Published January 27th, 2015 - 06:00 GMT

The United Nations opened a second round of political talks over Libya in Geneva on Monday and played down the absence of a key faction, saying only the site of the talks was a point of contention.

Libya has had two governments and parliaments competing for legitimacy since Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) seized the capital in August, installing its cabinet and forcing the government of internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani to the east.

The UN wants the rival factions to forge a unity government and end hostilities. The internationally-recognized government and some of its opponents are represented at the talks, but the main rival government based in Tripoli has refused to attend.

"They don't have a problem with the substance of the talks and they have agreed to participate in the talks. They are asking for the talks to be back in Libya and this is something where the other participants agree," UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon, who is chairing the talks, Said on Monday.

"I am hopeful that they will be involved — they are following, they are very interested in what we are discussing, and I hope that they will join if we can go back to Libya at some point."

Mohammed Shoaib, first vice president of the Libyan parliament, said it would be possible to move the talks to Libya "if we find a peaceful place."

Leon wants a ceasefire to underpin the political talks and plans to talk to leaders of armed groups later this week in Geneva. Some factions had declared partial ceasefires before the first round of talks, but sporadic clashes have continued.

At the opening of the first round of talks two weeks ago, he said the violence seemed to have subsided and he hoped that was a response to his call for support.

But this weekend there were clashes in Benghazi and near Sabha, the main city in the south, and a deputy foreign minister was kidnapped from his hotel.

On Monday, a ministry official announced Libyan deputy foreign minister Hassan al-Saghir was released a day after his kidnapping in the eastern city of al-Baida.

There was no additional information provided on the incident. Saghir himself, contacted by AFP, said only that he was fine.

Gunmen kidnapped Saghir from his hotel room in al-Baida, 1,200 kilometers from Tripoli, before dawn on Sunday, telling staff they were members of the security forces, according to witnesses.

The interior ministry and army command have denied any link to the abduction.

Meanwhile, 16 people were killed and 45 others injured on Sunday during clashes between forces loyal to Libya's army commander Khalifa Haftar and Islamist militants in the eastern city of Benghazi, a health ministry official said.

"The fatalities involved nine army personnel and seven civilians, the latter of whom were killed due to random shells hitting their homes," the official said.

Almost four years after a NATO-backed war ended Muammar Gaddafi's one-man rule in 2011, Libya is struggling with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory, especially oil sites, across the North African state.

Fighting in Libya has displaced tens of thousands since the summer and disrupted medical and health services. Conflict has caused frequent fuel, power and water shortages, increased food prices and damaged infrastructure.

In late October, Hadi Sahraoui, deputy director for Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program, accused both sides of the Libyan conflict of committing war crimes, saying, "in today's Libya, the rule of the gun has taken hold."

"Armed groups and militias are running amok, launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas and committing widespread abuses, including war crimes, with complete impunity," he added.

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