SKHIRAT, Morocco: Libya’s warring factions meet for a new round of “decisive” talks Monday as the UN scrambles for a peace deal before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan next week.
Amid warnings the oil producer is on the verge of collapsing into a failed state, United Nations envoy Bernardino Leon is pushing for an agreement before the June 17 start of Ramadan.
Libya plunged into chaos after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with heavily armed former rebels carving out fiefdoms across the country.
Two parliaments and two governments are vying for control of the country, where inroads made by the Islamic State group have raised fears of a jihadist stronghold on Europe’s doorstep.
The lawlessness has also led to a huge influx of migrants trying to make the dangerous crossing from Libya to Europe, with shipwrecks leaving hundreds dead and the European Union straining to respond.
The talks in the Moroccan seaside resort town of Skhirat “will discuss a new draft” of a political agreement to end the conflict, the UN mission to Libya said on Friday.
“UNSMIL is of the firm conviction that this round will be decisive,” the mission said.
Saying Libya was at a “critical juncture”, the mission called on the country’s rivals “to shoulder their historic responsibilities” by reaching a peace deal.
A source close to the negotiations said participants had begun to arrive in Morocco late Sunday and the talks would not start until at least Monday afternoon.
Moroccan media reported that the talks could be quickly suspended for 24 to 48 hours so participants could head to Germany, where world leaders are meeting for a G7 summit.
Pressure has been mounting for a deal, with Algeria, Egypt and Italy on Sunday calling for a political agreement.
At a meeting of top diplomats hosted by Cairo, the three countries backed Leon’s efforts, with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni saying Libya was “at a very important juncture”.
Warnings on jihadists
He called for the rivals to “quickly find a solution that satisfies everyone,” adding that an agreement was crucial not only for peace on the ground but to “control people smuggling and illegal migration” from Libya to Europe.
Three previous rounds of peace talks have failed to reach an accord.
At negotiations last week in Algiers, Leon warned that Libya was “at the limit”. With oil production stalled, institutions are running out of money to pay salaries and cover expenses, he said.
Leon urged representatives of the internationally recognized government in Tobruk and the Islamist-linked Fajr Libya militia alliance that controls the capital to overcome their differences.
“The competing governments (are) not advancing, not flagging very clearly a decision to reach an agreement, while we have seen terrorism, we have seen Daesh (IS) becoming more and more important in the country,” he said.
During April talks in Morocco, Leon and other negotiators said the sides were very close to an agreement on a draft proposal to form a national unity government that would serve for a maximum of two years.
After last week’s two days of talks in Algeria, Libyan political factions called for the urgent formation of such a government so it can “swiftly assume its responsibilities to tackle the many difficult challenges facing Libya on the security, political and economic levels.”
In a statement, the factions expressed concern about the “upsurge in terrorist acts” and the “imminent danger” from the takeover by IS of some territory.
The jihadist group, which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq, has won the loyalty of several Islamist groups in Libya and claimed responsibility for a series of attacks and atrocities, including the killings of dozens of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians.