Libya ceasefire talks in Moscow adjourned for the night

National/World

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, poses for a photo with Fayez al Sarraj, the head of Libya’s internationally-recognized government, in Istanbul, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. The meeting at Dolmabahce Palace took place on the first day of a ceasefire in Libya initiated by Turkey and Russia. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

MOSCOW (AP) — Talks in Moscow about bringing an end to Libya’s long-running civil war have been adjourned for the night after the country’s rival governments on Monday considered ceasefire proposals from Russia and Turkey.

Fayez Sarraj, the head of Libya’s U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli, and his rival Khalifa Hifter met with top diplomats and military officials from Russia and Turkey for the talks that lasted about seven hours. The negotiations were held behind closed doors, and Sarraj and Hifter didn’t meet directly. A tentative truce came into force on Sunday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Sarraj signed the draft agreement, but that Hifter requested more time to consider it.

“They have a positive view of the document and asked for extra time until the next morning to decide,” Lavrov said of Hifter and his delegation. “I hope they will make a positive decision. Russian and Turkish representatives will continue to offer their assistance.”

The truce marks the first break in fighting in months. There were immediate reports of violations by both sides, however, raising concerns it might not hold.

The civil war had been on the brink of a major escalation. Various foreign players back Libya’s rival governments, and they have recently been stepping up their involvement in the oil-rich nation’s conflict.

Libya plunged into turmoil after the 2011 civil war that ousted and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The eastern government is supported by France, Russia and key Arab countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey, Italy and Qatar support the Tripoli government, which has faced an offensive by Hifter’s forces, which closed in on the capital.

Russia has maintained contacts with both conflicting parties in Libya, but the government in Tripoli has recently charged that Russian military contractors were fighting alongside Hifter.

Asked Saturday about Russian private security companies in Libya, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded that “if there are Russian citizens there, they do not represent the interests of the Russian state and do not receive any money from the Russian state.”

Putin noted that mercenaries were sent to Libya from Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib alongside Turkey’s border, voicing hope that a lasting truce will help end the deployment of foreign fighters to Libya.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that his country was sending military personnel to Libya to support Sarraj’s government. Sarraj visited Istanbul for talks with Erdogan Sunday before heading to Moscow.

The negotiations follow the deals struck by Russia and Turkey to coordinate their action in Syria, where Moscow has shored up President Bashar Assad’s government and Ankara has backed his foes.

Putin discussed the situation in Libya with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Moscow on Saturday. The Russian leader welcomed Germany’s plan to hold a Libya peace summit in Berlin early this year.

In Putin’s conversations Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, they also emphasized their support of the planned summit in Berlin.

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that preparations for a Libya conference in Berlin are “in the home stretch” after weeks of consultations. He said the plan is for it to be held in January, but things aren’t yet so far advanced that a date can be officially announced.

Turkey’s Erdogan, speaking at a joint news conference Monday with the Italian prime minister, said he was hopeful that the Moscow meeting would form the basis for the Berlin meeting.

“My wish is for a cease-fire on a solid foundation to be the basis of peace for the future of our Libyan siblings and Libyan friends,” he said.

Seibert indicated that Sunday is one possibility for the conference. He was responding to a question about a report by CNN Turk that Erdogan would visit Germany on Sunday to attend the meeting. Erdogan’s office later confirmed that he will visit on Sunday, but didn’t specify why.

“Such a Berlin conference could only be the start of a longer process, and it must of course ultimately be certain that Libyan interests are at the forefront,” Seibert said. “Such a Berlin conference is certainly not the end of anything.”

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Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Turkey and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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