October 28, 2014 / 4:24 PM / 3 years ago

Libya near 'point of no return', U.N. says as fighting toll rises

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Factional warfare in Libya is pushing the oil producer “very close to the point of no return”, the U.N. special envoy to the country said on Tuesday with efforts to bring about a ceasefire and political dialogue showing no result.

A fighter from armed group Operation Dawn fires a mortar during clashes with rival group the Zintan brigade, on the outskirts of the city of Kklh, southwest of Tripoli October 21, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

The death toll from two weeks of street fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist armed groups in the eastern city of Benghazi has risen to 170, medics said. Seven people were killed alone on Tuesday, 15 on Monday.

The North African country has had two governments and parliaments since a militia group from the western city of Misrata seized the capital Tripoli in August, setting up its own cabinet and assembly.

The internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni had to move 1,000 km (625 miles) to the east where the elected House of Representatives is also now working, effectively splitting the vast desert nation.

Last month, U.N. Special Envoy Bernadino Leon launched an initiative to bring together both sides for a dialogue and ceasefire. But fighting has worsened in the past two weeks in Benghazi as well as in western Libya.

“I think this country is running out of time. The danger for the country is that in the past weeks we are getting very close to the point of no return,” Leon told reporters in a televised news conference.

Western powers worry that the OPEC producer is heading towards civil war as authorities are too weak to control former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority to grab power and a share of oil revenues.

Leon declined to give a likely time frame for the U.N. talks between the House of Representatives and Misrata members who have boycotted its sessions.

The talks suffer from the absence of armed factions from Misrata or a rival militia from the western city of Zintan that battled Misrata forces in Tripoli for more than a month over the summer before being forced out of the capital.

But diplomats hope that since Misrata members from the house are indirectly linked to a rival parliament in Tripoli, the talks will eventually yield a broader dialogue.

The situation in Tripoli has been worsened by a separate conflict between pro-government forces and Islamist brigades in Benghazi, the main city in the east.

Clashes could be heard in Benghazi’s Benina suburb near the airport, an area the army had declared last week “liberated” from Ansar al-Sharia, blamed by Washington for a 2012 attack on the former U.S. consulate that killed the American ambassador.

There was also fighting in western parts of the major Mediterranean port city where banks and many shops have been closed since army units loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar launched an anti-Islamist offensive and imposed a curfew.

Misrata and Zintan forces continue to clash in western Libya outside Tripoli.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, Ayman al-Warfalli and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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