Libya to resume UN-sponsored talks, death toll hits 700

Published February 8th, 2015 - 09:52 GMT

Libya's warring factions will resume UN-sponsored talks on Tuesday inside the country to try to resolve a struggle between two governments and parliaments, officials from both sides said on Saturday.

The news came as new clashes between pro-government forces and Islamists in the eastern Benghazi city killed seven soldiers, bringing the death toll of four months of fighting there to almost 700, medics said.

Four years after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi's one-man rule in 2011, Libya continues to struggle with instability as two rival administrations compete for power and warring armed factions skirmish for control of territory across the North African state.

Western military intervention in Libya in 2011 brought with it an influx of weapons, with Gulf Arab states also supplying arms to rebels, many of whom now refuse to hand them over to the internationally recognized government headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani.

Last August, Thani and his cabinet were forced to leave Tripoli for the east when militants from Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) seized the capital. The new rulers of Tripoli have set up their own administration, the General National Congress (GNC), which has not been recognized by the United Nations and world powers.

Last month, the UN managed to bring some members of the factions to talks in Geneva but the Tripoli-based GNC wanted the dialogue to take place inside Libya.

"The UN-sponsored peace talks will take place in Libya on Tuesday unless anything unforeseeable happens," Emhemed Shoaib, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, told Reuters.

GNC member Abdul-Qader Hwaili confirmed the date, and like Shoaib he declined to disclose the venue.

Last week, UN Special Envoy Bernadino Leon said during a visit to Tripoli that the talks would restart within days. A first UN-sponsored round of talks in the southern city of Ghadames was held in September but made no progress.

The UN is hoping to get both sides to agree on a national unity government. It plans to arrange local ceasefires and prisoner exchanges as a first step to defuse the conflict.

The conflict has been complicated by a separate battle in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city, where forces allied to Thani launched an offensive in mid-October to expel Islamist armed groups such as Ansar al-Sharia.

Army forces fought for the third day with Islamists holed up in the port area, residents said. Seven soldiers were killed and 41 wounded, medics said.

"The port is under the control of the army," said Farraj al-Barassi, a military commander.

But a Reuters reporter could still hear heavy fighting near the port and in two other districts where many residential and government buildings have been damaged.

Libya's violence has drawn strong condemnation from both the UN and European Union, and rights group Amnesty International has accused several factions of war crimes.

According to Amnesty, militants in the west showed “an utter disregard” for civilian casualties and accused them of indiscriminately lobbing artillery fire into crowded civilian neighborhoods, damaging homes and hospitals.

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