UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Libya said Wednesday he is confident that U.N.-brokered talks between the troubled country's rival governments are in the final stages. An agreement would immediately end the country's political crisis and military conflict.
Bernardino Leon told the U.N. Security Council that both sides should not squander their historic opportunity to be peacemakers, as Libya has slid into chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ended Moammar Gadhafi's four-decade reign.
The oil-rich north African country is divided between an elected parliament and government based in the eastern port city of Tobruk and an Islamist militia-backed government in the capital Tripoli — with militants from the Islamic State group also exploiting the chaos.
Members of the Tobruk government and regional leaders signed a peace deal last month, but the Tripoli government did not.
He expressed confidence that concerns by the Islamist government in Tripoli, including on forming a national unity government, can be addressed in ongoing discussions on the annexes to the accord.
"Time is running out," Leon said. "The onus is on Libya's leaders on all sides and at all levels to make that final push towards peace."
Talks are scheduled to resume on Thursday in Morocco.
Leon warned that overcoming the political polarization and divisions in Libya "will be no easy task" and that significant resources will be needed to pull the country back "from the brink of economic meltdown and economic collapse of state institutions."
He called the scale of human suffering "staggering," saying an estimated 1.9 million people need urgent assistance to meet basic health care needs, 1.2 million mainly in Benghazi and the east need food, and around 435,000 are displaced having fled their homes. In addition, he said, about 250,000 migrants are estimated to be in the country or passing through, many subject "to arbitrary arrest and detention in abusive conditions, sexual abuse, forced labor, exploitation and extortion."
The U.N. envoy also urged the international community to move quickly to present a strategy to support Libya and the hoped-for national unity government to eliminate the threat from extremist groups including the Islamic State, which has set up several local affiliates and seized Gadhafi's hometown, the central coastal city of Sirte.
Libya's U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi pressed for exemptions from a U.N arms embargo for the Libyan army so it can counter the extremists, in a letter to the council circulated Wednesday. The government is under an arm embargo but can request exemptions.
"The Libyan authorities will view any continued endeavor to prevent the Libyan army from acquiring the weapons needed for counter-terrorism as constituting support for terrorism and for the spread of the so-called Islamic State" group and other al-Qaida-linked and extremist groups, Dabbashi warned.
He told the council that "it's clear Libya is threatened in its very existence as a united democratic state" but it still hopes the country can be saved.