Libya rivals in first direct talks on unity government

The parties are determined to bridge their differences and have been working on concrete proposals, the U.N. said

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Representatives of Libya’s rival parliaments had their first direct talks Saturday in negotiations aimed at agreeing a deal for a national unity government, with the United Nations talking of “important progress.”

U.N. Libya envoy Bernardino Leon had shuttled between the two sides on Thursday and Friday during indirect discussions in Skhirat, near the Moroccan capital.

The two sides are discussing the form a unity government would take and the terms of a cessation of hostilities in the violence-wracked North African nation.

Libya’s elected parliament is based in the eastern city of Tobruk while the rival Islamist-backed General National Congress is in the capital, Tripoli.

Participants said representatives of the two sides sat down face-to-face for the first time in the presence of Leon, Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar and Moroccan intelligence chief Yassin al-Mansouri.

The discussions are due to end later Saturday and the delegations will go back to Libya on Sunday to consult their respective leaderships before returning to Morocco next week.

The talks are being facilitated by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which said “the participants agree that important progress has been made so far.”

“The parties are determined to bridge their differences and have been working on concrete proposals on the key elements regarding security arrangements and a government of national unity to bring peace to the country,” a statement said.

Leon had been trying for weeks to bring the two sides together.

On Friday, he had called the talks process a difficult one that would not create solutions “in one or two days”.

Before the Morocco meeting, representatives of both parliaments had already held indirect talks on February 11 at Ghadames in southern Libya, again under UN auspices.

These were the first discussions of their kind since a national dialogue was launched at the end of September.

Libya has been wracked by conflict since the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with the two governments and powerful militias now battling for control of key cities and the country’s oil riches.

On Friday, Islamic State group jihadists killed eight guards in an attack on the southern oilfield of Al-Ghani, a security source said.

Two foreigners, a 39-year-old Austrian and a Filipino who worked for a services company, were missing after the attack.

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