March 13, 2015 / 12:37 PM / in 3 years

U.N. postpones Libyan talks to give parties time to prepare

SKHIRAT, Morocco (Reuters) - The United Nations has postponed until next week a new round of talks with Libyan politicians to try to end a crisis that has left the country with two rival governments and armed factions battling for power and oil wealth.

The U.N. envoy to the North African country said on Friday the talks had been delayed to next Thursday to give “time to all parties to prepare for the final stages” of the dialogue.

The goal of negotiations is to achieve a unity government and a lasting ceasefire, and put Libya’s democratic transition back on track four years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. But both administrations face internal splits over the negotiations.

Delegates from the internationally recognized House of Representative were absent from the Moroccan costal town of Skhirat, where the talks had been planned for this week. That parliament had asked to postpone the talks.

“The HoR has decided to reinforce its team by adding new members and new advisers,” the U.N. envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, told reporters. “I hope all the parties will return for the final stages of these talks next Thursday.”

Delegates from the rival administration of an armed group that seized control of the capital Tripoli last August were present and held talks with Leon, a spokesman for the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said.

Western leaders support the U.N. talks as the only way to end the turmoil in Libya, where Islamist militants have gained ground in the chaos.

But in a sign of how far apart the sides remain, representatives of the Tripoli faction on Friday asked the United Nations for its official position on Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi ally who has been named army chief for the internationally recognized government.

Haftar began a self-declared war on Islamist militants last year and has gathered support in the east. But his critics in Tripoli say he is a Gaddafi loyalist whose presence damages chances of a peace deal.

“We have asked the U.N. envoy for an official position on the appointment of a war criminal as the commander of the Libyan army,” said Omar Hmeidan, a spokesman for Tripoli’s parliament.

Leon said he had not read the request yet, and the “talks are not discussing that issue (Haftar’s appointment)”.

Friday’s session was the second round of UNSMIL-sponsored consultations in Skhirat, after several rounds in Geneva and elsewhere.

Editing by Alison Williams

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