SKHIRAT, Morocco (Reuters) - Officials from Libya’s rival parliaments sat at the same table for the first time on Sunday at the latest round of United Nations-backed peace talks in Morocco, a move negotiators saw as an important step to forming a unity government.
Violence continued in Libya. Sixteen soldiers of the Libyan National Army (LNA) were killed on Sunday in clashes with the Al-Qaeda-linked group Abu Salem Brigades, an army spokesman said.
Libya has two governments and parliaments, with the internationally recognized government operating out of the country’s east since an armed alliance known as Libya Dawn took over the capital Tripoli and declared its own government last year.
A new round of talks among the warring factions has been underway in the Moroccan costal town of Skhirat since Friday, hosted by the United Nations in an effort to end a conflict that threatens to break up the oil-producing nation.
Nearly three weeks after U.N. special envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon handed them a final draft, negotiating teams have been trying to hammer out amendments while hardliners on the ground keep fighting for a military victory.
“This is definitely an important step,” said U.N. mission in Libya spokesman Samir Ghattas. “We are working on the text that brings in the remarks of the two parties.”
“There is an agreement of most of the elements of this text, but there are still two or three points that were not agreed by the parties,” Leon said.
Leon added that all the parties would head back to consult with their respective constituencies and talks would resume on June 2.
“On Thursday we will try to initialize the agreement.”
Neighboring European countries are concerned that Libya, in the absence of central authority, is becoming a haven for Islamist militants and people smugglers.
The U.N. proposal calls for a one-year-long government of national accord in which a council of ministers headed by a prime minister and two deputies would have executive authority.
The House of Representatives would be the legislative body, but the accord also sees the creation of a 120-member State Council, consisting of 90 members of the Tripoli parliament.
Terms of a ceasefire, the disarmament of armed groups and their withdrawal from oil facilities and cities are also addressed.
Both sides have agreed in principle to the draft but potentially deal-breaking disagreements remain on the authority of the second chamber, the legitimacy of the House of Representatives, and who controls the commander of the national armed forces.
Four years on from the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, European countries are worried that Libya has become a haven for Islamist militants, including Islamic State.
Additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfali in Benghazi, Editing by Ralph Boulton, Toni Reinhold