March 25, 2015 / 3:16 PM / 5 years ago

UN tells backers of Libya's rival sides to pressure them for peace

GENEVA, March 25 (Reuters) - International backers of Libya’s rival factions must pressure the warring groups to work out a political deal and help to choke off the supply of guns to the country, a U.N. official said on Wednesday.

The United Nations has been sponsoring talks to encourage the rival factions to form a unity government as a way to stop the conflict in the oil-producing country.

“If we get a political agreement, the next thing is to convince the armed groups to basically back off,” Claudio Cordone, head of human rights at the U.N. Mission in Libya, told a news conference in Geneva.

He said there were moderates on both sides, but also “spoilers” trying to thwart a political deal.

The number of people now under arms, estimated at 100,000 to 300,000, was up to 10 times more than the 30,000 or so Libyans who took part in the revolution that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, he added.

“The key thing is to put pressure on the regional powers who really hold the tap of weapons and money,” Cordone said. “Unfortunately there’s plenty of money in Libya so that’s difficult leverage to use. And I know efforts are being made in that respect as well.”

He did not specify which countries were supplying weapons, but said that there were four countries that might be able to put political pressure on either side.

“Everybody knows that the key countries that have influence on Libya’s factions are on one side the (United Arab) Emirates and Egypt and on the other side Qatar and to some extent Turkey,” he said.

“These guys, if they really put pressure on the Tobruk parliament or on the other side to come to an agreement, that would give greater chance of achieving that agreement.”

General Khalifa Haftar, chief of the army loyal to the internationally recognised government based in Tobruk, had launched an offensive to liberate Tripoli just as the U.N. started a round of talks, Cordone said.

“They’ve been very clear they don’t want an agreement,” he added.

Libya’s factions may include between 1,000 and 5,000 fighting for the Islamic State militant group, Cordone said. But it was unlikely to gain overall control because Libya lacks the sectarian divide that exists in Iraq and Syria, he said. (Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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