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EU to call on Libya's Haftar to stop offensive - draft

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union states will call on Khalifa Haftar to halt his eastern forces’ offensive in Libya, according to a draft statement, amid disagreements between France and Italy over policy towards the north African state.

Thousands of residents fled on Wednesday as Haftar’s forces - called the Libyan National Army (LNA) - and troops loyal to the Tripoli government battled on the outskirts of Libya’s capital.

The military attack launched by Haftar on Tripoli “is endangering the civilian population, disrupting the political process and risks further escalation with serious consequences for Libya and the wider region, including the terrorist threat”, the EU will say in a joint statement, a draft of which was seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

EU member states have until 2100 GMT on Wednesday to object to the draft, or it will become the official position of the bloc.

Speaking on the sidelines of an EU summit focused on Britain’s exit from the bloc, European Parliament head Antonio Tajani, who is Italian, said Paris and Rome had “diverging interests” in Libya.

France, which has oil assets in eastern Libya, has provided military assistance in past years to Haftar in his eastern stronghold, Libyan and French officials say..

Italy, the former colonial power and a big player in Libya’s oil sector, has supported the U.N.-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.

“We need more unity, we need to speak with only one voice as Europeans, but unfortunately Europeans are divided on this,” Tajani told reporters.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday the bloc was united in calling for a truce and a return to diplomacy in Libya.

The EU has supported al-Serraj’s government in recent years to have it crack down on refugees and migrants leaving for Europe from the shores of Libya. The country descended into a civil war after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, allowing people smugglers to operate with impunity.

The EU draft statement says “hostilities must cease immediately, the LNA must withdraw and the humanitarian truces called by the U.N. must be heeded”.

“The European Union... call on their international and regional partners to exert their influence and send an unequivocal message to the aggressors that there is no military solution to the crisis, only a political one,” it says.

Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry