GENEVA: Rival Libyan politicians met on Wednesday for UN-sponsored political talks in Geneva aimed at ending the latest round of fighting over the country’s capital, Tripoli.
The resumption of political negotiations, one of three ongoing UN-mediated diplomatic tracks, followed an agreement this week between military officials to formalize a shaky cease-fire around Tripoli.
The declared cease-fire deal, now under review by Libya’s competing leaders, addresses the return of thousands of displaced civilians to Tripoli. But it makes no mention of key points of contention, such as the withdrawal of eastern-based forces or the demobilization of formidable militias loosely allied with the UN-supported Tripoli government.
Peace negotiations have made halting progress over past weeks, as low-intensity clashes continue around Tripoli and weapons flow into the war-torn country despite world powers’ pledges to the contrary at a peace summit in Berlin last month.
Meanwhile, Eastern Libya’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that his government, parallel to the Tripoli administration, could not force eastern tribesmen to lift an oil blockade that he said was a “popular decision.”
The embattled Tripoli government has increasingly relied on Turkey to supply military aid, including air defenses and fighters deployed from nearby Syria, to repel Haftar’s advances.
The commander of the eastern forces, Khalifa Haftar, and his followers, who control the country’s east and south, launched an offensive to capture Tripoli last April. The fighting has displaced more than 150,000 people and killed hundreds of civilians.
“We cannot use our power to lift the blockade,” Abdulhadi Lahweej told journalists in Geneva, alleging that the Tripoli government was using revenues from oil to pay for thousands of mercenaries he says have come from Syria to help them.
He also reiterated that his side, led by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, would not participate in political talks due to begin in Geneva on Wednesday, saying there was no agreement with the U.N. mission on the composition of their delegation.
“The participation for the moment is suspended,” he said.
The United Nations had planned to bring together lawmakers from both sides of Libya’s conflict on Wednesday to end the fighting over Tripoli as part of a dialogue encompassing military, political and economic strands.