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Libya talks to go ahead despite new fighting

Ghassan Salame, UN special envoy for Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) speaks during a press conference in the Libyan capital Tripoli on April 6, 2019. – A conference between Libya’s warring parties set to start on April 14 is to go ahead despite renewed fighting around Tripoli, the United Nations’ envoy said today. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

A conference between Libya’s warring parties set to start on April 14 is to go ahead despite renewed fighting around Tripoli, the United Nations’ envoy said Saturday.

“We are determined” to hold the talks “as scheduled” unless prevented by serious obstacles, Ghassan Salame said at a press conference in the capital, target of a new offensive this week by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar, commander of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), launched an offensive on Thursday to take the capital, held by a UN-backed unity government and an array of militias.

His forces clashed south of the capital Friday and Saturday with forces that back the country’s unity government.

The UN’s conference of key players is set to draw up a “roadmap” to lead Libya towards legislative and presidential elections.

Libya’s rival leaders agreed in Paris last year to hold elections before the end of the year, but that vote never materialised as the two rival administrations and numerous militias grapple for power.

But Salame said Saturday: “We want to reassure Libyans that we will stay alongside the Libyan people to make the political process a success without resorting to escalation.”

Since the toppling of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, Libya has been divided between an array of armed groups.

The internationally-recognised unity government, born out of UN-backed talks, has struggled to assert its control.

Haftar, who has seized much of eastern Libya, backs a rival administration and has repeatedly vowed to seize Tripoli and “cleanse” it of “terrorists and mercenaries”.

The UN Security Council on Friday called on Haftar to halt his advance on Tripoli, warning the military move was putting Libya’s stability at risk.

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