Libya risks long war as talks drag on

2015-04-10 07:44

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Tripoli - As talks between Libya's rival factions drag on, experts say there is little hope of a political deal and are warning of protracted civil war and a rise in Islamic extremism.

Since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in a Nato-backed uprising, Libya has been wracked by conflict, with rival governments and powerful militias battling for control of key cities and the country's oil riches.

Delegates from Libya's rival parliaments have been holding UN-mediated talks in various countries for weeks aimed at ending instability by forming a unity government -- but so far have failed.

A spokesperson for the UN mission to Libya told AFP that the talks could resume this weekend.

They are expected to discuss a six-point proposal aimed at establishing a transitional government to rule until a new constitution is adopted and elections held.

The proposal was delivered at meetings in Tripoli and Tobruk, where the rival parliaments are based, late last month.

But analysts say there are few chances of a breakthrough.

"There are pragmatics and moderates on both sides who want to end the fighting and believe that the fight against extremism is through a unified government," said Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"But there are also hardliners who stand to lose personally if there is a ceasefire and new government," he said.

Growing threat

Libya has had two governments and parliaments since Tripoli was seized in August by the Islamist-backed Fajr Libya militia coalition and the internationally recognised government fled to the country's far east.

Clashes have ensued as both sides fight for control of territory and the country's crucial oil reserves, estimated by Opec at 48 billion barrels - the largest reserves in Africa.

About 3 000 people have died in the violence, according to a local monitoring group, Libya Body Count.

Analysts said that even within each faction there are rivalries, with powerful militia groups vying for influence.

"We are dealing with governments that are very divided. And each camp has too many divisions," said Issandr El Amrani, the North Africa project director at the International Crisis Group.

"The success of talks depend on whether you can get the spoilers isolated enough," he said, referring to those who would lose influence if a unity government is formed.

But the longer the chaos remains, the worse the growing threat of extremist groups, including from the powerful Islamic State group, which has taken hold in some parts of Libya, experts said.

Several Libyan jihadist groups have pledged allegiance to IS and claimed responsibility for attacks - including the brutal beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christians and an attack on Tripoli's Corinthia hotel - that have spread fear at home and abroad.

Another threat to the success of the talks, analysts said, are the international interests backing the rival factions.

Echoes of Lebanon's war

Some even drew a parallel with Lebanon's civil war, where rival factions backed proxy forces in 15 years of brutal conflict.

"The country is split into two camps, and both camps have international backing," said Ali Zlitni, a Libyan political science professor.

He said the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were backing the Tobruk government while Qatar and Turkey supported Fajr Libya.

"The more it becomes a regionally backed war like the civil war in Lebanon, the more it will last," Amrani said.

Zlitni said there needed to be stronger push for a faster political solution to prevent Libya from collapsing further and the extremists from gaining ground.

"This war will continue for years to come if the Libyan groups can't sit at the same table and negotiate," Zlitni said.

Read more on:    libya  |  north africa

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