Libya's Rivals Start UN-led Talks to Reach Political Accord

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- Libya's rival factions began much-awaited political peace talks in Tunisia's capital on Monday brokered by the United Nations, with a goal of drawing a roadmap to presidential and parliamentary elections.

The U.N. selected 75 delegates from Libya to take part in the six-day forum in a Tunis hotel, aimed at ending the political chaos that engulfed the North African nation after the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Tunisian President Kais Said attended the talks' opening ceremony, calling the forum “historic by all measures.” Said added the U.N. efforts aim to set “clear measures and specific dates” to reach “a peaceful solution” in Libya's conflict.

Said called on those who will lead the transitional period to refrain from running in the next presidential or parliamentary elections.

“There is no room for dividing Libya. Some talk about East and West, but the Libyan people are one," he said. “The solution is for the Libyan people to regain their full sovereignty.”

Stephanie Williams, the top U.N. official in Libya, told journalists Sunday night that preparatory meetings have been positive.

“Libya now has an excellent opportunity which will allow it to get out of the conflict tunnel, if all the interlocutors assume their responsibilities and respect their commitments at the end of this dialogue,” Williams said.

But previous diplomatic initiatives to end the conflict have repeatedly collapsed. These latest talks however came amid heavy international pressure to start talks. Warring sides agreed to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire agreement last month in Geneva.

Pope Francis on Sunday asked for prayers for the forum's delegates and for peace and stability in Libya.

“Given the importance of the event, I strongly hope that in this moment so delicate a solution is found for the long suffering of the Libyan people, and that the recent agreement for a permanent cease-fire is respected and is realized,” Francis told the faithful in St. Peter's Square.

Oil-rich Libya is now split between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east. Those sides are backed by an array of local militias, as well as regional and foreign powers.

Eastern Libya forces, led by commander Khalifa Hifter, launched an offensive in April 2019 to try and capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed in June when the Tripoli-allied militias, with heavy Turkish support, gained the upper hand.