UN tries to salvage Libya talks after gov't announces pullout

UN tries to salvage Libya talks after gov't announces pullout

UN tries to salvage Libya talks after govt announces pullout

A cloud of smoke rises from a port of Tripoli after being attacked on Feb. 18, 2020. (AA Photo)

The United Nations tried to salvage talks over a ceasefire for Libya on Feb. 19 after the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) said it was pulling out after a single day to protest against the shelling of the capital's port.

Talks began on Feb. 18 in Geneva between the internationally recognized Tripoli government and its main rivals, the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA), which has been trying to take the capital.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the GNA said on Feb. 19 talk about resuming peace negotiations has been overtaken by events on the ground amid ongoing shelling from eastern factions trying to take Tripoli.

“There must be first a strong signal from all international players who are trying to talk to us," he told reporters at Tripoli's sea port which got shelled by eastern forces on Feb. 18.

Late on Feb. 18 the government said it would suspend its participation after the LNA shelled Tripoli port in the latest of several strategic plays by troops loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar that have coincided with attempts to ease tensions.

U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame was trying to convince the Tripoli delegation to stay in Geneva and resume indirect talks, a source close to the talks said and the United Nations confirmed.

"Delegations are still here (in Geneva) and Dr. Salame has a meeting today with the head of the GNA delegation," said Jean El Alam, spokesman for the United Nations Libya mission, referring to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. "The mission leadership is in contact with the GNA in Tripoli and member states to keep the momentum going."

In a separate statement, the U.N. mission said it was "expressing its strong and renewed condemnation of the bombing of Tripoli's seaport yesterday by the Libyan National Army".

There was no immediate comment from either side. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu met with Haftar and they agreed a political settlement is the only option for Libya, RIA news agency said on Wednesday.

Nearly nine years after rebel fighters backed by NATO air strikes overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya still has no central authority. The streets are controlled by armed groups, with rival governments based in Tripoli and the east.

Since the LNA marched on Tripoli nearly a year ago, fighting has displaced 150,000 people. Both sides have support from an array of foreign governments, with Turkey supporting the Tripoli government and countries including Russia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates helping the easterners.

The Geneva meetings have so far been held in different rooms, with Salame shuttling between the parties. Another round of talks is scheduled next week in Geneva.

The latest attack is part of an emerging pattern amounting to an apparent power play by the commander.

Haftar's forces last month shut down Libya's main oil ports as European and Arab powers and the United States were meeting with his supporters in Berlin aimed at halting the campaign to capture the capital. In 2019, eastern military forces moved to western Libya just as U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres arrived.

The port is the main entry gate for wheat, fuel and other imports for Tripoli and has also been used by Turkey to send military trucks and other equipment to its government allies.