TRIPOLI, Reuters - Libyan factions vying for control of the country have agreed to continue United Nations-backed talks in Geneva next week over ending the political crisis, although one main group has so far refused to participate.
Nearly four years after a NATO-backed revolt ousted Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is in turmoil with two rival governments and two parliaments backed by armed factions who Western governments fear may drag the country into civil war.
Key representatives from a self-declared government based in Tripoli stayed away from this week’s talks. But in a possible sign of progress, its main armed groups battling forces of the internationally recognised government declared a ceasefire.
That government, under Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, and the elected House of Representatives have operated out of the east after one faction, Libya Dawn, took over Tripoli in the summer, set up its own government and reinstated the old parliament known as the GNC.
A delegation from the House of Representatives and parties allied to Tripoli attended this week’s talks in Geneva, but major representatives from Libya Dawn and the GNC parliament refused to join, casting doubt over efforts to form a unity administration.
“Participants agreed to return to Geneva next week for a new round of dialogue after holding the necessary consultations,” the U.N. said in a statement late on Thursday.
“The mission and the participants expressed their hope that all the invited representatives, including those who did not attend this round, would take part in the talks next week.”
Although it didn’t attend, Libya Dawn, which is battling Thinni’s troops on several fronts, and an allied group which has been trying to seize two eastern oil ports declared a ceasefire, said Ahmed Hadia, spokesman of a Misrata-based armed group called Central Shield.
“We are also seeking now to open safe corridors for aid in different conflict areas,” he said.
Libya’s conflict involves a myriad of loosely allied militias, factions and armed groups whose loyalties are often more to local or regional leaders, making any ceasefire fragile.
One faction guarding oil facilities warned it would not accept a ceasefire even if Libya Dawn forces retreated to the city of Misrata, which is a key part of the Tripoli government.
Making progress in the Geneva talks will also depend on bringing the Tripoli faction on board and also ensuring the buy in from armed factions who are fighting on the ground.
Delegates from the city council of Misrata went to the Geneva talks despite Tripoli’s objections, a sign of potential divisions within the Tripoli government.
GNC head Nouri Abusahmain, a key figure in the Tripoli faction, was to visit Turkey on Friday for talks with President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, according to the Turkish government.
Thinni’s government is recognised by the United Nations and Western powers. The Tripoli administration is not, but still controls ministries, airports and some oil facilities.
Most diplomats pulled out of the capital when Libya Dawn took over Tripoli after months of fighting with rival armed groups. But in October, the Tripoli government’s premier Omar al-Hasi met Turkey’s envoy, the first such public meeting.
The European Union has called the Geneva talks the “last chance” to resolve Libya’s crisis. Rival brigades of former rebels and their political allies who once fought together against Gaddafi have since turned against each other in a scramble for control.
The U.N. talks are aimed at forming a unity government, ceasing hostilities and putting a transition to democracy on track. But the Tripoli-based forces complained this week that the process had been rushed, and said they would vote on Sunday whether to go to Geneva or not.
Fighting over the country’s oil infrastructure has closed two major oil ports in the east and slashed Libya’s oil output to around 300,000 barrels per day from the 1.6 million bpd produced before the civil war toppled Gaddafi in 2011.
Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Dominic Evans and Crispian Balmer