Rival Libyan factions meet for UN-led talks aimed at bringing lasting peace to their war-torn North African country and preparing for elections.
The UN-sponsored Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) has opened talks on Libya's future in Tunisia aimed at ending nearly a decade of chaos and bloodshed by arranging elections, but obstacles remain despite progress in cementing last month's ceasefire.
Acting UN Libya envoy Stephanie Williams described it as the best opportunity in six years to end the turmoil and warfare that have plagued the North African oil-exporting country since 2011.
But she warned at Monday's opening ceremony attended by Tunisian President Kais Saied, "The road will not be paved with roses and it will not be easy."
The talks, held among 75 participants chosen by the United Nations to represent an array of political viewpoints, regional interests, and social groups, come as the main warring sides discuss how to implement a truce they agreed in Geneva.
LPDF is a fully inclusive intra-Libyan political dialogue established by the Berlin Conference Outcomes and endorsed by the UN Security Council.
"You have the opportunity to end a tragic conflict," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told delegates in a video message at the opening ceremony.
"Now it's your turn to shape the future of your country."
Libya has been split since 2014 between rival factions in the west, held by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), and the east, home to warlord Khalifa Haftar's militia.
Both sides are also backed by foreign powers with their own concerns that have invested heavily to build up military strength on the ground and strike deals with their local partners.
Turkey supports the GNA, helping it this summer to turn back Haftar's assault on capital Tripoli.
Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Egypt.
President of Tunisia: I urge you to focus on a unified Libya; there is no room for dividing Libya. Some talk about East and West, but the Libyan people are one. The solution is for the Libyan people is to regain their full sovereignty. #Libya_First #LPDF pic.twitter.com/PKLJmES4Oz— UNSMIL (@UNSMILibya) November 9, 2020
Focus on elections
After frontlines solidified near the central coastal city of Sirte, both sides began UN-mediated ceasefire talks.
Williams said they had made new progress in implementing the nationwide ceasefire they agreed last month and had set up a headquarters in Sirte to hash out details.
She wants the Tunisia political talks to set a roadmap for elections as soon as possible and establish a single, unified authority across the country that can manage the process.
Those taking part have pledged not to accept any role in a new transitional government, she said.
Nearly a decade after central authority collapsed, repeated bouts of warfare have sapped state resources, damaged the water and power networks, and worsened a financial crisis, making life wretched for millions.
As Libya sweltered in August and cases of the coronavirus began to rise, protests broke out on both sides of the frontlines over dire living conditions and corruption.
"It is necessary to set dates for the elections so that the Libyan people will have the ballot box after the sounds of bullets are silenced," Tunisian President Saied said.
Peter Millett, a former British ambassador to Libya, warned on the first day of talks that "if potential spoilers like Haftar and the militias don't see themselves benefiting, hostilities could break out again."
"The most important thing is a timeline for elections," he said.
"It needs to be short, maximum of nine months, with key milestones for implementing and a clear message from the international community that they will impose sanctions on anyone who obstructs it."