January 14, 2015 / 4:33 PM / 3 years ago

U.N. Libya meeting makes faltering start, seeks unity government

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N.-sponsored talks in Geneva between rival Libyan factions aim to reach agreement to form a unity government, the United Nations envoy for Libya said on Wednesday, as he tried to launch talks which only one side to the conflict has formally endorsed.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Bernardino Leon addresses a news conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, January 14, 2015. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

The European Union has called negotiations a “last chance” to resolve the crisis in Libya, where a standoff between two rival governments and allied armed factions threatens to slide into civil war three years after Muammar Gaddafi’s demise.

“We are proposing an agreement and we are proposing a new unity government to start solving their political differences,” U.N. Special Representative for Libya Bernadino Leon told a news conference in Geneva.

“The second goal is to stop the fighting. I‘m sure you all know that Libya is falling very deeply into chaos.”

The talks are supposed to bring together delegates from the self-declared government which took over the capital Tripoli last year, as well as the internationally recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni - and the armed forces allied to the rival administrations.

The new rulers of Tripoli said their legislature had postponed a decision over joining the Geneva talks until Sunday because of concerns about how the negotiations were organized, throwing the process into doubt.

Leon said the door would stay open and he was encouraged that several municipalities allied to Tripoli had decided to come. “It’s not one camp that is absent, it’s some people from this camp,” he said.

Leon added that he hoped the talks would attract parties that were representative of the majority of Libyans, so there would be no need for a referendum on the outcome.

The delegates who gathered in Geneva on Wednesday, and appeared to mingle and chat amiably before posing together for a group photograph with Leon, included four members of the House of Representatives, the parliamentary authority behind the internationally recognized government now based in Tobruk.

The initial talks may last until Friday and could resume next week if the Tripoli faction decides to join, but further rounds could continue in different locations, he said.

After “extensive consultations with different military actors”, Leon said he was hopeful that a comparative lull in the fighting in recent days was due to the U.N. call for a ceasefire.

“The fighting groups say ‘We don’t want to fight, we want a political solution’,” Leon said. “As early as next week we would like to start talking to military actors in a conference setting.”

Leon said if the two sides agreed on a unity government, it would consolidate the ceasefire by ensuring militias withdrew and weapons were brought under control. If all parties agreed, it might also start a constitutional and electoral process. “The constitution is almost ready,” he said.

Editing by Dominic Evans

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