The United Nations opened a second round of political talks over Libya in Geneva on Monday and played down the absence of a key faction, saying only the site of the talks was a point of contention.
Four years after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall, Libya has two rival governments — one internationally recognized and the other set up by a faction that has taken over Tripoli — who are locked in a conflict Western powers fear will slide into civil war.
The U.N. wants the rival factions to forge a unity government and end hostilities. The internationally recognized government and some of its opponents are represented at the talks, but the main rival government based in Tripoli has refused to attend.
“They don’t have a problem with the substance of the talks and they have agreed to participate in the talks. They are asking for the talks to be back in Libya and this is something where the other participants agree,” U.N. Special Representative Bernardino Leon, who is chairing the talks, told Reuters.
“I am hopeful that they will be involved – they are following, they are very interested in what we are discussing, and I hope that they will join if we can go back to Libya at some point.”
Mohammad Shoaib, first vice president of the Libyan parliament, said it would be possible to move the talks to Libya “if we find a peaceful place”.
Leon wants a ceasefire to underpin the political talks and plans to talk to leaders of armed groups later this week in Geneva. Some factions had declared partial ceasefires before the first round of talks, but sporadic clashes have continued.
At the opening of a first round of talks two weeks ago, he said the violence seemed to have subsided and he hoped that was a response to his call for support.
But this weekend there were clashes in Benghazi and near Sabha, the main city in the south, and a deputy foreign minister was kidnapped from his hotel by gunmen.
A source involved in the Geneva talks said the deputy minister, Hassan al-Saghir, had been released, and pointed to a unilateral ceasefire by Tuareg forces in the southwestern town of Ubari as the latest sign of faith in the U.N. process.
Shoaib called for the international community to put pressure on “all fanatical groups”, wherever they were based in Libya, and cited U.N. Security Council resolution 2174, which called for an immediate ceasefire in August 2014.
“Maybe this is the right moment to impose some sort of sanctions against those who refuse to join the peaceful process,” he said, adding that such a request had already been put to several permanent members of the Security Council.