Delegations from Libya's two rival governments have met with officials in Berlin to discuss a UN power-sharing proposal. Germany's foreign minister warned it could be "the last chance" to save Libya from collapse.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (right) and UN envoy Bernardino Leon (left) meet with almost two dozen Libyan representatives in Berlin
Around 23 Libyan envoys from the country's warring factions met European diplomats in Germany's capital Wednesday in the latest push to end the ongoing conflict.
Libya currently has two parliaments battling for control of the North African country. The internationally-recognized government was forced to set up base in the eastern city of Tobruk after militias seized Tripoli last August. A self-styled government with Islamist backing is now operating from the capital.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who hosted the talks in Berlin, said the atmosphere at the negotiations was "very encouraging," but warned there may not be another opportunity to strike a peace deal.
"We have to be clear, and we told this to the parties in this conflict today, that we have an opportunity, but there won't be many more. Perhaps this is the last chance to prevent Libya from complete collapse," Steinmeier said.
Fighting between forces from both governments has battered the OPEC nation since the 2011 uprising that ended the rule of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The power vacuum left by Gadhafi's ouster has seen jihadist groups flourish in Libya, with both the "Islamic State" and al Qaeda managing to overrun several towns and gain a foothold there.
"If there is no deal in the next days or weeks, no one at the negotiating table will be a winner. The winners will be other radical groups, ISIS above all," Steinmeier said, refering to one of the names for "Islamic State."
Time running out
Rival sides: Khalifa al-Ghwell, prime minister in Tripoli (left) and Abdullah al-Thani (right) prime minister in Tobruk
UN special envoy Bernardino Leon has been negotiating for months to get the two sides to agree to a peace and power-sharing accord. At talks in Morocco this week, he presented Libyan delegations with a fourth version of a draft proposal for forming a unity government.
It calls for the selection of a new prime minister, with the current elected House of Representatives legislating alongside a second chamber made up of some members of Tripoli's parliament. The agreement also addresses the terms of a ceasefire.
Tripoli's self-declared government has accepted the UN proposal. But Libya's internationally-recognized government said the proposal gave too much say to Islamist factions, with some members boycotting the talks.
After Wednesday's meeting, Leon said the general opinion of Libyan representatives was that "this proposal might be acceptable, and this is in both camps," though he added that there were hardliners on both sides.
Leon is pushing for a final peace agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on June 17.
"The time has come to make an agreement," Leon said. "We can continue working for months and for years maybe to reach a perfect agreement, but Libya doesn't have the time."
'Islamic State' militants are battling for control of Sirte, the hometown of slain Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi
Crisis across the Med
In Berlin, the Libyan representatives were joined by diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - as well as Italy, Spain, the European Union, and a number of Libya's neighbors.
Libya's delegations are scheduled to travel to Morocco for another round of talks on Thursday.
The conflict in Libya has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing, prompting European governments to become increasingly alarmed. Libya lies just across the Mediterranean Sea, and is a main departure point for refugees from Africa and the Middle East hoping to reach Europe.
nm/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)