By Robin Emmott and Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has agreed sanctions on three Libyan leaders who oppose a Western-backed unity government, clearing the way for travel bans and asset freezes to be imposed in the next few days, diplomats said.
EU governments have been hesitating for months, fearful of derailing peace efforts, but Western powers recognized a unity cabinet as Libya's only legitimate government on Sunday, and are pushing for it to move to Tripoli and start work.
The sanctions deal marks a breakthrough for France, which hopes the measures will help accelerate the formation of a government and avoid Libya slipping fully into the hands of Islamic State militants.
"Sanctions have been agreed," a senior EU diplomat told Reuters, saying that although the legal text to support the sanctions still needs to be drawn up, no government is expected to object to the proceedings.
The three men are Nouri Abusahmain, president of Libya's General National Congress in Tripoli, one of two rival parliaments, Khalifa al-Ghwell, prime minister of the Tripoli government, and Aguila Saleh, the president of Libya's internationally recognized parliament in Tobruk.
Ghwell repeated his opposition to transfer powers to the unity government in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday.
French and Italian officials have been saying for more than a year that the political chaos and security vacuum in Libya is allowing Islamists to gain ground, spreading out from Tunisia.
EU foreign ministers held a 90 minute discussion on Libya on Monday with U.N. special envoy for Libya, Martin Kobler, and some governments warned about the perils of inaction.
"We have four centers of power in practice and it turns out that the most effective one is the one created by Islamic State, which is developing its structures there," Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said following the meeting.
EU foreign ministers in January promised 100 million euros ($108 million) of immediate support for Libya once a government is formed.
(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Louise Ireland)