February 3, 2020 / 2:18 PM / 21 days ago

U.N.-brokered Libya military talks begin in Geneva

GENEVA (Reuters) - Military officers from rival factions in Libya’s conflict began U.N.-led talks in Geneva on Monday aimed at securing a ceasefire after 10 months of fighting on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli.

The so-called “Libyan Joint Military Commission” includes five senior officers from eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and five officers aligned with the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar has been waging an offensive since April to take control of Tripoli, where the GNA is based. The fighting has displaced more than 150,000 people and drawn increasing involvement by foreign powers.

The military talks were taking place two weeks after an international summit in Berlin that was focussed on charting a path towards a political solution and enforcing a U.N. arms embargo that has been routinely violated.

Haftar has received material support from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, and Russia, according to U.N. experts and diplomats, while the government is backed militarily by Turkey.

The LNA had delayed appointing representatives for the military talks, but appears to have come round to participating after Turkey supplied air defence systems that blunted the air advantage enjoyed by Haftar and his backers, diplomats said.

Haftar’s offensive, which upended a previous U.N. peace plan, deepened the gulf between loose alliances that have competed for power from western and eastern Libya since 2014.

There was an escalation in fighting late last year, and a truce brokered by Russia and Turkey from Jan. 12 has been repeatedly violated.

The United Nations says weapons and fighters have continued to enter Libya since the Berlin meeting, and groups loyal to Haftar have imposed a blockade on major oil ports and fields that has shut off most of Libya’s oil production.

The Geneva talks are aimed at trust building and working out a monitoring mechanism for a ceasefire, diplomats said. The Geneva talks are being moderated by U.N. Special Representative Ghassan Salamé.

Reporting by Emma Farge and Ulf Laessing; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Peter Graff and Grant McCool

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