April 15, 2015 / 11:21 AM / 3 years ago

Air strikes near Tripoli as U.N. peace talks on Libya resume

TRIPOLI/RABAT (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government carried out air strikes on Wednesday near the capital Tripoli, which is controlled by its rivals, officials said, as United Nations-brokered peace talks resumed in Morocco.

U.N. Special Envoy Bernardino Leon condemned the air strikes as an attempt to prevent a Tripoli delegation from traveling to Morocco for the new round of talks.

“We have seen negative messages (aimed) toward this dialogue but we have never seen air strikes at the moment when one of the delegations is taking off on its way to the talks,” Leon said, according to a U.N. statement.

“We hope that there will be an investigation into who is behind this attack and we hope that an explanation will be given to the international community,” he said.

Two governments, one based in the east, the other in Tripoli, are fighting for control of Libya and carrying out tit-for-tat air strikes, four years after the ousting of veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Mohamed El Hejazi, spokesman for army forces loyal to the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, said warplanes had attacked Tripoli’s Mitiga airport and other targets in western Libya.

“This is part of our campaign against terrorism,” he said.

Abdulsalam Buamoud, spokesman for Mitiga airport, said the planes had missed the airport. A security source said a missile battery some 10 km from the airport on the outskirts of Tripoli had been hit.

Thinni, his government and the elected parliament have been confined to eastern Libya since a group called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August, set up their own administration and reinstated an assembly.

The U.N. talks aim to persuade both sides to form a unity government and lasting ceasefires. The United Nations “believes this round may be decisive in consolidating the significant progress achieved so far,” a statement said.

Western leaders say the negotiations are the only way to end the chaos in Libya, where militants loyal to Islamic State have gained ground, exploiting a security vacuum just as they did in Syria and Iraq.

Both governments face internal divisions and are dominated by former rebels who helped oust the autocrat Gaddafi, but who now use their weapons to fight for territory. Hardliners on both sides favor a military solution.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gareth Jones

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