December 21, 2017 / 12:45 PM / 3 months ago

French foreign minister visits Libya in new push for U.N. talks

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya’s rival factions should stick to a United Nations peace process and prepare for elections in spring 2018, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday, trying to give stalled U.N. talks a new push.

Libya's Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala attends a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Tripoli, Libya, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

The North African country has two rival governments, one in the east and a U.N.-backed administration in the capital Tripoli in the west, in a conflict stemming from the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

France was a leading player in the NATO intervention against Gaddafi, sending warplanes to bomb his forces.

The United Nations launched a new round of talks in September in Tunis between the rival factions to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, but they broke off after one month.

“I noted the desire from the Prime Minister (Fayez al-Seraj) to stick to the calendar. We have a total convergence of views to implement this agenda,” Le Drian said after meeting the Tripoli-based prime minister in the Libyan capital.

Drian will later fly to the eastern city of Benghazi to meet the powerful eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar, who on Sunday called the U.N.-backed government and peace process obsolete.

The U.N. talks had stumbled over the question of what role Haftar should play. He indicated on Sunday he wants to run as presidential candidate.

Haftar remains popular among Libyans in the east who are weary of the chaos, but faces opposition in western Libya.

The eastern-based House of Representatives on Tuesday widened divisions between east and west by approving a new central bank governor. The bank’s Tripoli headquarters and U.N. rejected the move.

Le Drian said a political deal would help solve crisis of thousands of illegal migrants stuck in detention centers in Libya where human rights groups said they often face abuse.

Libyan officials deny this but say they are overwhelmed with a flood of migrants.

Libya is to main departure point for illegal migrants heading for Europe by boat.

additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami Writing by Ulf Laessing, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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