UN urges Libya rivals to engage as doubts hang over talks

Libya's conflict pits UN-recognised premier Fayez al-Sarraj against military commander Khalifa Haftar (AFP Photo/FETHI BELAID, HO)

Tripoli (AFP) - The UN's Libya mission and world powers on Tuesday urged the country's warring parties to engage in peace efforts, as doubts hung over talks set to start the next day in Geneva.

The negotiations are supposed to gather delegates from a Tripoli-based unity government and representatives of an eastern-based parliament backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, who is leading a months-long offensive to seize the capital.

Both sides had said Monday they would not take part in the negotiations in Switzerland, citing different reasons.

The eastern-based parliament said the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) had not approved all of its representatives.

Meanwhile the High State Council, the equivalent of a senate which backs the unity government, said it would not participate in the talks until progress was made in military negotiations.

But UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam insisted Tuesday that the "Libyan Political Dialogue will start tomorrow as planned."

The UN's Geneva spokesman Rheal Leblanc also confirmed the talks would take place Wednesday.

Political sources in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi told AFP that UN officials were working to salvage the talks and persuade both sides to take part.

Five western powers and the European Union also voiced support for the talks.

"The embassies of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States (as well as the EU mission) welcome the considerable progress in the UN-facilitated talks in Geneva toward a lasting ceasefire in Libya," they said in a joint statement.

"We call on all parties to reject obstructionism and engage in good faith as Libya moves forward with its democratic transition."

- Turkish troops killed -

Haftar's forces launched an offensive against Tripoli, seat of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), last April.

His fighters have since stalled on the edges of the capital, but fighting has left more than 1,000 people dead according to the UN.

A joint military commission with five members from each side wound up talks Sunday in the Swiss city with a "draft ceasefire agreement" to be finalised in March, according to the UN mission.

But the pro-GNA High State Council said it would not be bound by the outcome of political talks if they went ahead "before knowing the military dialogue's conclusions".

Libya has been rocked by violence since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Since 2015, the GNA -- headed by Fayez al-Sarraj -- has been vying with Haftar's forces for control.

A ceasefire backed by Haftar ally Russia and pro-GNA Turkey was announced in January but has been regularly violated.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that two of his country's troops had been killed in Libya, where Ankara has sent dozens of military trainers since signing a deal with the GNA last year.

Last week, Erdogan confirmed pro-Turkish Syrian fighters were in Libya alongside the training teams.

Russia is also widely reported to have sent mercenaries to back Haftar's forces, which are also supported by the United Arab Emirates.

Western powers are keen to stabilise Libya -- home to Africa's largest proven crude oil reserves -- because of concerns Islamist militants and migrant smugglers, already active, will take advantage of the chaos.