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Africa

United Nations hails progress at Libya talks in Morocco

Libya's rival governments are headed home after three days of talks in Morocco. Since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya's militias have installed rival governments: one in the east, the other in the west.

Representatives of Libya's rival parliaments on Saturday held direct talks for the first time. The factions hope to agree on a deal for a unity government. UN Libya envoy Bernardino Leon had shuttled between the two sides on Thursday and Friday during indirect discussions in Skhirat, near the Moroccan capital, Rabat.

"The parties are determined to bridge their differences and have been working on concrete proposals," the United Nations announced in a statement on Saturday.

In late February, the democratically elected parliament had called off talks with the militia-backed Islamist government. However, efforts gained new urgency as groups linked to the "Islamic State" (IS) emerged.

On Friday, an IS-aligned group killed at least seven guards in an attack on the southern oil field of Al-Ghani. On Saturday, reports emerged that at least nine foreigners had gone missing in that attack, with a strong possibility that IS or another group had taken them hostage.

Attacks by IS within Libya have spurred neighboring Egypt to call for new international military intervention. People smugglers have taken advantage of the power vacuum created by two governments to launch perilous and often ill-fated boats filled with migrants from Libya's coast toward Europe.

Progress 'so far'

Before Saturday's talks, representatives of the parliaments had not sat down face to face. Doing so alongside UN envoy Leon, Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar and Moroccan intelligence chief Yassin al-Mansouri the meeting represented a breakthrough. For the first time, the Libyan groups could actively negotiate with each other and discuss the form a future national unity government could take as well security arrangements to pull militias out of cities and airports.

The UN Support Mission in Libya reported that "the participants agree that important progress has been made so far." Leon, who had tried for weeks to bring the two sides together, on Friday had called the talks process a difficult one that would not create solutions "in one or two days."

The delegates will now take the proposals discussed home to present them to their respective governments and the talks will reconvene by midweek, UN spokesman Samir Ghattas said. Libya's elected parliament has done its best to govern more or less in exile in the eastern city of Tobruk, while the rival Islamist-backed General National Congress has held on to the capital, Tripoli.

The parties will likely return to Morocco with suggestions for who should head the new government.

mkg/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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