U.N.-backed negotiations between rival Libyan factions looked in doubt on Tuesday after one of the delegations said it would postpone a decision on whether to participate until Sunday.
Western governments hope talks in Geneva this week would ease a crisis in Libya where two rival governments and their forces are vying for control of the North African oil producer three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
The internationally recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has been based out of eastern Libya since the summer after a faction called Libya Dawn took over Tripoli and set up its self-declared government and legislature.
Tripoli-based forces said their legislature had postponed a decision over joining the Geneva talks until Sunday because of concerns about how the negotiations were organised.
“We do not reject dialogue, but we believe that the UN rushed to determine the date of the dialogue and its mechanisms,” said Omar Hmaidan, spokesman for the Tripoli legislature on Monday. “We have decided to postpone the vote to participate or not to next Sunday.”
The decision from Tripoli appeared to push back the chance of any meaningful talks between the two sides.
“The U.N. office at Geneva is still planning on hosting the talks that have been announced, but cannot confirm at this stage exactly when they will start,” said U.N. spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian.
A delegation from the elected House of Representatives, representing Thinni’s government, was already in Tunisia waiting to fly to Geneva, according to a parliament representative.
The European Union had called the Geneva talks the last chance for Libya, with Western governments increasingly concerned over the instability spilling into a broader civil war just across the Mediterranean from mainland Europe.
Diplomats expected the Geneva talks to be initial, indirect negotiations over U.N. objectives for a unity government and an end to hostilities rather than any swift resolution.
The conflict involves two broad coalitions of political rivals and their allied brigades of former rebels who once fought side by side against Gaddafi but have since turned against each other.
Thinni’s government and forces are broadly anti-Islamist, allied to former rebel militias from the town of Zintan, and a former Gaddafi army general, Khalifa Haftar, who Thinni has incorporated into his government’s armed forces.
Libya Dawn forces are mostly allied to the rival city of Misrata, but also include some Islamist-leaning former rebels and politicians. They deny charges they are linked to radical Islamist groups.
The new rulers in the capital are not recognised by the United Nations and world powers, but have taken over ministries, oil facilities, airports and much of western and central Libya.
Libya’s oil production has slumped to around 300,000 barrels per day as petroleum revenues increasingly become the focus of fighting. Two major eastern oil ports and their fields are still closed after clashes for control of the terminals.