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Libya talks on elections miss deadline amid 'heated debate'

The UN-sponsored talks have so far failed to secure roadmap for planned December elections
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush attend a joint press conference as part of the 'Second Berlin Conference on Libya' at the foreign office in Berlin, Germany on 23 June 2021 (Reuters)

Delegates at the UN-sponsored talks aimed at paving the way for elections in Libya in late December have failed to find common ground after a week of discussion in Switzerland, the deputy of the United Nations' mission in Libya said on Friday night.

Raisedon Zenenga, assistant secretary-general and mission coordinator of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), called on participants to keep working towards finding a "workable compromise", describing the talks as "heated debate" marked by threats of walkouts.

"The people of Libya will certainly feel let down, as they still aspire to the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights in presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 December," Zenenga told the closing session.

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"This does not bode well for the credibility and future relevance of the LPDF (Libyan Political Dialogue Forum)," he said. "I encourage you to continue to consult among yourselves to pursue a workable compromise and cement what unites you."

The talks, held at a hotel about 15 kilometres from Geneva, had been extended into a fifth day on Friday with delegates struggling to agree.

They had been expected to establish the constitutional basis for presidential and parliamentary elections by 1 July.

But delegates and UN officials said they could not agree among themselves on several proposals circulating, prompting organisers to extend the talks originally planned to last four days.

The elections would be a critical step in international efforts to bring stability to Libya, which has been in turmoil since a 2011 Nato-backed uprising against longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

A UN-led peace process brought a ceasefire last summer after fighting between rival factions paused and then a unity government was formed.

The talks in Switzerland follow an international conference in Berlin last week.

United Nations envoy for Libya Jan Kubis said on Monday that leaving Switzerland without a decision this week was "not an option" given the timeframe.

On Thursday, Kubis described that day's session as "difficult" and urged delegates to refrain from "disrespectful behaviour and personal attacks", without elaborating.

"This is not the outcome that many of us had hoped for but it is the better outcome given the options that were on the table and UNSMIL's leadership's inability to keep the talks on track," LPDF member Elham Saudi told Reuters on Friday.

"This only delays the battle, but does not resolve the issue," she said. "Let us remember the interests of Libya and Libyans who deserve elections."

Moves towards a political solution in Libya accelerated after eastern commander Khalifa Haftar's 14-month assault on Tripoli collapsed last summer.

A formal ceasefire was agreed in October, and the following month participants in the UN peace dialogue set a date for elections and agreed to create a new interim government.

However, major risks persist, with many armed groups still holding power on the ground.

Haftar was backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Egypt in his Tripoli offensive.

The internationally recognised Tripoli government was supported by Turkey, which ultimately helped it repel the assault.

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