UN envoy says push continues toward cease-fire deal in Libya

CAIRO (AP) — The United Nations’ (UN) special representative for Libya said the country’s warring sides are working to turn a provisional cease-fire into a formal agreement as they emerged from four days of talks, a prospect that appears to face steep obstacles.

Head of the UN support mission in Libya Ghassan Salame said rival military leaders are negotiating the remaining sticking points in a cease-fire deal.

Those include the return of internally displaced people, the disarmament of armed groups and ways to monitor a truce, which each side has accused the other of violating. He said the cease-fire would be monitored by the military representatives in Geneva with support from the UN Mission in Libya.

Another unresolved issue, he said, is how to deal with heavy weaponry, which powerful foreign backers continue sending to Libya, despite their pledges not to at a high-profile summit last month in Berlin.

“There are still two or three points of divergence,” Salame told reporters in Geneva.

File photo shows fighters of the ‘Shelba’ unit, a militia allied with the UN-supported Libyan government, aim at enemy positions at the Salah-addin neighbourhood front line in Tripoli, Libya. PHOTO: AP

The latest round of fighting erupted last April when eastern-based forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter laid siege to Tripoli in a bid to wrest power from the UN-backed government led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj.

Sarraj and Hifter both sent delegations of military officials to represent them at the Geneva talks.

Yet even as the delegates conferred, the suburbs of Libya’s capital came under heavy fire, health authorities said, which killed at least four civilians in the last 24 hours.

A 15-year-old boy struck by a shell last week died from his wounds on Wednesday, pushing the toll to at least five.

“I’ve noticed more strikes this week, and the victims have been civilians,” said Assad Jaafar, a spokesman for Libya’s Red Crescent based in Tripoli.

The uptick of violence comes amid intensified diplomacy among world powers seeking to end the conflict that has ravaged Libya for nine years.

The UN Security Council in New York met this week to discuss a draft resolution to uphold the widely flouted arms embargo. And Algeria’s Foreign Minister visited Hifter and tribal leaders on Wednesday to present a still opaque, African Union-backed alternative to European efforts.

Libya’s fate lies in the hands of foreign powers, which have conflicting interests in the oil-rich country and are reluctant to make concessions.

Current cease-fire talks, meant to pave the way for negotiations “have yielded a violent political process instead of quiet,” said Director of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute Anas El Gomati, offering diplomatic cover to Hifter’s forces as they embark on a military offensive.

Rival Libyan leaders and their foreign backers “are using military tools to put pressure on talks, and are making civilians into bargaining chips,” he said.

Two civilians were killed and four were wounded early Thursday when they were struck by errant shells, according to Health Ministry Media Advisor Amin al-Hashem. Another two were killed in a similar attack by Hifter’s forces the day before, he said. Artillery rounds crashed into the bustling centre of Tripoli University on Wednesday, causing panic among students but no casualties.