January 18, 2015 / 2:28 PM / 3 years ago

Rival parliament says U.N. talks must be held inside Libya

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's rival parliament decided on Sunday that it would attend U.N.-sponsored talks to end the country's political turmoil only if they were held inside Libya, officials said.

Nearly four years after a NATO-backed revolt ousted Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is in upheaval. Two governments and parliaments, backed by armed factions, are fighting for power and control of oil reserves in a conflict that Western governments fear may lead to full-blown civil war.

The United Nations last week brought factions vying for control of Libya together in Geneva, but key representatives from the self-declared government and the associated parliament based in the capital Tripoli stayed away.

The Tripoli assembly, known as the General National Congress (GNC), was open to dialogue but wanted to hold the talks in the remote southern city of Ghat, its spokesman Omar Hmeidan said. "Talks must be in Ghat, not in Geneva."

GNC member Abduqader Hawaili said 100 of the 110 members attending Sunday's session of the GNC had voted in favor of the proposal.

There was no immediate reaction from the United Nations. Its special envoy for Libya, Bernadino Leon, said in a video message published on Sunday that "essential work" would start at the talks next week.

"We have agreed on confidence-building measures, or at least on measures that will improve the life of the Libyans," he said, without mentioning the GNC decision.

The internationally recognized government, under Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, and the elected House of Representatives have operated out of the east since the Libya Dawn faction took over Tripoli in the summer, set up its own government and revived the old parliament, the GNC.

In September, the United Nations held a first round of talks bringing together rival factions in the southern city of Ghadames, but little progress has been made.

Libya's conflict involves a myriad of factions and armed groups who helped to topple Gaddafi but are loyal above all to local or regional leaders, making any agreement hard to reach or enforce.

Last week's talks were attended by a delegation from Misrata, Libya's third city, associated with Libya Dawn, in a possible sign of a split among the Tripoli rulers.

The conflict has been complicated by a separate battle in the main eastern city of Benghazi, where Thinni's forces have allied themselves with Khalifa Haftar, once a general under Gaddafi, to fight Islamist groups such as Ansar al-Sharia.

About 600 people have been killed in three months of heavy fighting in Benghazi since Thinni's forces started an offensive, medics said. Since the start of January alone, 34 people have been killed and 23 wounded.

A Reuters reporter in Benghazi said most parts of the city were controlled by special forces or Haftar's fighters, and that some districts had suffered heavy damage.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, Feras Bosalum and Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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