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Leon says 'encouraging' progress being made at Libya peace talks

'The Libyans have been working together, discussing, interacting. This has not been possible before'
UN Support Mission in Libya head Bernardino Leon at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister in Berlin (AFP)

The first ever face-to-face talks between rival Libyan factions have been positive, with a deal still possible before Ramadan, the UN special envoy to Libya said on Wednesday.

“From all sides, all cities there is a very strong call… We want to celebrate Ramadan [which begins next week] in peace,” Bernardino Leon told reporters at a joint press conference held with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"The Libyans have been working together, discussing, interacting. This has not been possible before."

The Berlin talks were attended by 23 Libyan delegates from the two rival camps, one headquartered in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, as well as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and representatives from the EU.  

The talks are aimed at establishing a united national government in the conflict-ravaged nation which has seen the Islamic State group gain an increasing foothold.

While the earlier, third draft, released in April was rejected by Tripoli, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives has appeared outwardly hostile to the latest forth draft.

Earlier this week, 55 out of 72 Tobruk-based assembly members who attended a session on the draft, voted down the proposals and opted to suspend the HoR’s involvement in the talks and recall its envoys.

Issues of who will be the next commander in chief, the role of the national dialogue committee, as well as the extent of legislative powers for a new council are all believed to have been major sticking points for Tobruk.

However, just two days later Leon said that “encouraging” progress was being made.

“Encouraging means that the general opinion of the representatives, and also other people who are not here but are important and influential, has been that this proposal might be acceptable,” he told journalists.

He added: “In both camps there are hardliners… But what is important is that the door is still open.”

The envoy hoped for an agreement next week but said the goal of achieving an agreement before Ramadan begins on 18 June was not “a sacred goal”.

“There are many threats, many negative forces operate against an agreement,” he said.

Steinmeier said failure to reach an agreement would only benefit militant groups and help the country to descend further into chaos.

“This proposal constitutes an opportunity,” he warned. “But there will not be many opportunities to follow. It might be the last and only one to prevent Libya from crumbling.”

On Tuesday, Steinmeier, who hosted the Berlin meeting, said that time was running out.

"The round of negotiations that just began moderated by Bernardino Leon is perhaps the last chance for a long time for Libya to avoid breaking apart," he said, while adding that the current round of negotiations could be a "last chance" for progress.

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