The U.N. envoy to Libya said Tuesday there was a "genuine will to start negotiating" between rival military factions as they planned to meet for the first time for talks in Geneva aimed at securing a lasting cease-fire.
However, Ghassan Salame told reporters that an arms embargo was being violated by both sides and that new mercenaries and arms were still arriving "by air and by sea" in Libya, where forces loyal to eastern-based putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar have been trying to take the capital, Tripoli, from the U.N.-recognized government for the past 10 months.
The talks bring together five senior military officers from Haftar's so-called Libyan National Army and five representatives aligned with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
Fighting has continued on the ground despite a call for a truce by Turkey and Russia starting on Jan. 12 and an international summit on Libya in Berlin on Jan. 19 aimed at reducing international interference.
Haftar has received material support from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Russia, U.N. experts and diplomats say, while the GNA is backed by Turkey.
Salame deplored the presence of more than "20 million pieces of weaponry" in the country and said that he had asked the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution to reaffirm an existing arms embargo and pass measures to ensure it is respected.
"If we come to a lasting cease-fire ... at least the parties in Libya will not need more weapons or more fighters," he said. "If these talks succeed, at least the pull factor will disappear. Because with the violation of the arms embargo, there is a push factor and a pull factor."
"If you agree on a lasting cease-fire, the pull factor will certainly weaken,” Salame said, pointing to "more than 20 million pieces of weapons in the country and that is enough. The country doesn't need more."
Salame also noted that a blockade by Hafter's forces has slowed Libya's oil output to a trickle.
"I call on countries to support the U.N. attempts to resume production," he said. "Production has been hit severely. In fact, now Libya is only producing offshore, which is 72,000 barrels a day compared to 1.3 million barrels a day before the closure.”
Talks between the two sides, who did not meet face-to-face in Geneva on Monday, were aiming "to bridge the gaps in their views on how the lasting, sustainable cease-fire can be organized on the ground," Salame said.
"We started yesterday to discuss with them a long list of points on our agenda, starting on an attempt to transform the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side and also to transform that truce into a real agreement on a lasting cease-fire," he 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.
The GNA was set up in 2016 from a previous U.N. peace push that Haftar and his backers spurned.
The conflict that developed in Libya in the years since Moammar Gadhafi was toppled in 2011 has given space to militants and migrant smugglers and crippled Libya's oil-reliant economy.
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