TRIPOLI (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew to Tripoli on Saturday to urge the warring factions fighting for control of Libya to make peace, in the highest-level visit since an armed faction took the capital in August.
Oil producer Libya is struggling with two governments and two parliaments since an armed group from the western city of Misrata seized Tripoli, setting up its own cabinet and assembly while forcing the internationally recognized government to move to the east.
Western powers and Libya’s neighbors worry that the North African country will become a failed state as former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 now fight for control and a share of the vast oil reserves.
“There is no alternative to dialogue,” said the U.N. secretary general after arrival. “It is my conviction that all problems in Libya can be solved through dialogue. Nevertheless, we understand that the path will be long and difficult. Peace building always is.”
Ban met a deputy speaker and other lawmakers from the elected parliament, the House of Representatives, which has moved to the eastern city of Tobruk, as well as Misrata members of the assembly who have boycotted the sessions.
He said he had come to support a U.N.-sponsored dialogue to try to end militia fighting. The talks, started in the southern city of Ghadames two weeks ago, have not taken in armed factions from Misrata or a rival militia allied to the western city of Zintan who battled Misrata forces in Tripoli for more than a month over the summer.
But diplomats hope that since Misrata members from the house are indirectly linked to the rival parliament in Tripoli, the talks will start a broader political dialogue, not just about the House of Representatives.
“We call for a political dialogue ...and welcome the mediating role the U.N. is playing,” Fathi Bashagha, a lawmaker, from the group which has boycotted the sessions of the assembly in Tobruk, told Reuters.
But in an indication of the challenge to bridge differences in a country divided along tribal and regional lines, a Misrata militia commander denounced those taking part in the Ghadames talks as criminals, according to a video circulated on social media.
“The time is currently not ripe for talks,” Salah Badi, one of the commanders leading the seizure of Tripoli, said in the video. Reuters could not verify its authenticity.
He said anyone who wanted to talk to the Operation Dawn, an alliance of forces which took Tripoli, should come to the front line. His force have been trying to expand to the west of Tripoli.
Libya’s weak central government and fledging national army have been no match for the well-armed factions, who both claim legitimacy for their role in the NATO-backed civil war that ended the late Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
The situation in Tripoli has been worsened by a separate battle in the main eastern city of Benghazi where pro-government forces are battling Islamist militias which have taken several army camps.
An army commander was killed on Friday, Wanis Bukhamada, army special forces commander, told Reuters. Around 130 soldiers have been killed since August, a separate army source added.
Unknown gunmen also fired rockets at the Labraq airport east of Benghazi, which has become the main entry gate into the east since Benghazi airport was closed due to fighting in May, security sources said. Nobody was hurt.
Reporting by Feras Bosalum, Ahmed Elumami, Ulf Laessing, Ayman al-Warfalli and Heba al-Shibani; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Stephen Powell