Exclusive: Europe to hit Libyans with sanctions over peace impasse

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is preparing sanctions against five Libyans accused of blocking a U.N.-backed peace deal, Western diplomats told Reuters on Monday, after EU foreign ministers agreed to pressure all sides to negotiate.

Members of Libyan pro-government forces, backed by the locals, walk with weapons during clashes in the streets with Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries, an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels who have joined forces with Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, in Benghazi April 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Three senior militants who have threatened violence against any future unity government, as well as two military leaders who say their faction cannot abide by any accord, will be hit with EU travel bans and asset freezes unless they change their position, diplomats said.

The European Union says a U.N.-backed deal is the only way to end the war between rival governments vying for power in the oil producer four years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, and will use sanctions to try to force all parties to negotiate.

Some Libyan warring factions signed an initial United Nations-sponsored agreement this month to form a unity government and end fighting. But the Tripoli-based parliament - the General National Congress (GNC) - refused to attend.

Three militia leaders in Tripoli who support the GNC are set to face sanctions. The highest profile leader is Abdulrahman Suweihli, a Misrata politician tied to the Libya Dawn administration in the Libyan capital. He is also listed on proposed U.N. sanctions held up by Russia and China.

The other two Tripoli men are Salah Badi and Abdulraouf Mannay. No details were immediately available about the pair.

Two military leaders in the east of Libya, who say their forces will not respect any peace accord, also face sanctions. They are General Khalifa Haftar, commander in chief of the eastern forces and air force head Fakir Jarroushi.

EU foreign ministers gave no details of names, but EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a news conference: “We are prepared to adopt sanctions, we are considering names”.

The European Union wants a national unity government set up so that it can seek Libya’s formal approval for a naval mission to combat people-smugglers operating off the Libyan coast and responsible for a large migrant influx into Europe.

“We can’t just sit here while tragedies are happening. If dialogue is not bringing progress, it seems to me to be logical to impose sanctions,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters.

A confidential discussion paper drawn up by the EU’s diplomatic service and seen by Reuters sets out a range of options for sanctions, including imposing a full oil embargo. But the most likely option is a blacklist of individuals with power and influence in Libya’s ongoing internal conflict.

The United Nations brought factions together in the Moroccan coastal town of Skhirat to sign an initial power-sharing agreement in July after months of negotiations.

Under the plan, Libya will get a one-year government of national accord. A council of ministers headed by a prime minister and two deputies would have executive authority. The House of Representatives would be the legislative body, a plan that ran into opposition from the GNC.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Gaunt in London; Editing by Dominic Evans