March 22, 2015 / 6:58 PM / 3 years ago

U.N. says Libya talks extended despite clashes

SKHIRAT, Morocco (Reuters) - Libyan peace talks in Morocco between two rival governments, expected to end on Sunday, will be extended for two more days despite clashes on the ground.

U.N. Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Bernardino Leon holds a news conference on Libya's reconciliation process at the es-Sahirat region of Rabat, March 20, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Western leaders say the U.N. talks are the only way to end the chaos in Libya, where the two rival governments and armed factions are battling for control and Islamist militants have gained ground in the resulting mayhem.

A renewed military offensive in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, had threatened international efforts to reach agreement on a unity government and lasting ceasefire in the warring oil producing state.

Both sides have attacked each other with war planes in the past few days. But earlier on Friday, U.N. special envoy Bernardino Leon had said he hoped the rival factions would soon come closer to reaching a deal.

Despite international pressure for a ceasefire to give a chance to peace talks, the internationally recognized government, which has withdrawn from the capital, said on Friday its troops had started a campaign to “liberate” Tripoli from the rival administration in control there.

“For the moment no one is leaving, we have had a difficult moment... after these attacks there was a possibility either to cancel the dialogue or to lose some of the delegations,” Leon told reporters in the Moroccan costal town of Skhirat.

“The documents, which we have been have been discussing the last three days, might be ready tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” he said.

Leon said negotiations on candidates to be part of a unity government will come in a second stage of talks, which would start after a preliminary deal is reached in the next two days.

Diplomats say they accept that moderates attending the talks from both sides will face difficulty in persuading hardliners to accept any deal.

Four years after an uprising ousted Muammar Gaddafi, western powers fear Libya’s conflict will spill into a broader civil war. Former rebel groups who once fought together against Gaddafi have turned against one another in a scramble for power.

Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Patrick Markey and Peter Graff

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