December 15, 2014 / 1:17 PM / 3 years ago

U.N. Sahel envoy says Libya turmoil could destabilize neighbors

A Libyan military personnel mans a checkpoint in the city center in Benghazi December 4, 2014, where clashes between pro and anti-government forces have taken place. REUTERS/Stringer

DAKAR (Reuters) - The United Nations special envoy to the Sahel region said on Monday talks to resolve a crisis in Libya had stalled and warned several countries in the region risked being destabilized unless it was resolved quickly.

Hiroute Gebre Selassie said instability in the Sahel region south of the Sahara desert had worsened due to the fragile state of regional governments and expansion of Islamist militants.

“In Libya, the political process is stagnant and the clashes between the different factions continue,” Selassie said at an African security forum in Dakar.

“If the crisis in Libya is not resolved quickly, then numerous countries in the region will be destabilized.”

Libya has two governments competing for legitimacy since a group called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August, forcing the internationally recognized prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, to the eastern city of Tobruk, spurring fears of a civil war for control of the country’s vast oil reserves.

A second round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks was due to open this week, though al-Thinni has vowed to retake Tripoli by force.

“We have to act quickly because if we don‘t, we will have broken pots everywhere,” she told Reuters.

“I‘m not saying that there is no international action, but efforts must be stepped up,” she said. “Libya is already destabilized, but the Sahel risks being set ablaze.”

She said that different positions of regional players were hindering the efforts of France’s regional counter-insurgency force Barkhane and the United Nations to start the dialogue.

“What is at stake is huge and more effort is needed,” she said. Persistent indications of Islamic State training camps being set up in Libya were especially worrying.

“There are groups that have given allegiance to Islamic State and the situation on the ground in Libya paves the way for these groups,” she said, adding the spread of weapons across the Sahel was continuing despite efforts to hamper Islamist networks.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country has deployed some 3,200 troops in the Sahel to tackle Islamist groups, said that militants had managed to regroup in southern Libya and equip themselves with weapons.

A French-led operation in January 2013 destroyed an al-Qaeda-linked enclave in northern Mali, but scattered Islamist cells still carry out attacks against Malian troops and U.N. peacekeepers.

“With these large spaces and porous frontiers, it’s not always possible to stop all these movements,” she said.

Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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