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Participants in the Libyan political Dialogue meet for second round of talks in Skhirat, Morocco on Friday 28 August

Libya peace talks get a boost ahead of deadline

Hopes for a deal to form a unity government in war-torn Libya by a September 20 deadline received a boost Friday after UN-brokered peace talks had run into opposition from both sides.

UN envoy Bernardino Leon, announcing “very good news”, said lawmakers from Libya’s internationally recognised parliament had agreed to return to the talks with their rivals in Tripoli after resolving an internal dispute. The parliamentarians based in Tobruk in the far east of Libya had bridged their differences and agreed to re-engage in the process, he said from the talks near Rabat.

“We still have to reach a final agreement on the other issues,” he said. “We have little time, a lot of work to do and we will continue to inform on the evolution.” The Spanish diplomat has been trying for months to end the deadlock between Libya’s rival governments that has allowed jihadists and people smugglers to flourish in the chaos-wracked country. His peace plan calls for an accord to be reached by Sunday, in time for the UN General Assembly in New York that runs until October 6, but successive proposals have met with resistance from one side or the other.

Libya has been sliding deeper into turmoil since the 2011 ouster of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with two rival administrations and militias battling for control of the oil-rich North African nation. The rival to Libya’s internationally recognised parliament operates from Tripoli, backed by the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) militia coalition.

The Islamic State jihadist group has taken advantage of the turmoil to expand its foothold in the country. IS has also claimed several attacks in the Libyan capital, including an assault on a prison located in the grounds of the city’s airport that killed three security personnel on Friday. Libya’s emergence as a smuggling hub for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean has also added to the urgency of the long-running talks.

Leon’s plan aims to form a national unity government for a two-year transition period to end with parliamentary elections. The Tobruk legislature signed a draft deal in July but changes were made at the request of the Tripoli-based General National Congress. Amendments suggested by the GNC – including a call to respect a judgement of the Tripoli-based supreme court invalidating the internationally recognised government – were then rejected by the Tobruk-based administration.

With the deadline looming, an official with an international organisation posted in Tripoli, asking not to be named, said the plan’s failure would lead to Leon being replaced and continued fighting on the ground.

The rival factions had seemed close to reaching a deal last week at the talks in Morocco’s seaside resort of Skhirat. Then on Tuesday, the internationally recognised parliament rejected the new draft and said it was withdrawing from the latest session of peace talks — an announcement played down by Leon. Leon has said he remains optimistic that a deal can be reached by Sunday, but acknowledged time is running out for his mediation mission.

“Of course, if there’s a decision be it on September 20, before then, or in the days that follow not to continue the process, then of course my time as representative and special envoy will be over but we’re not there yet.”

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