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Number of families displaced in Libya doubles since September as fighting rages

Amid fierce ongoing battles, UN envoy says he hopes rival parliaments will agree to form unity government during talks in Morocco this week
Fighters sit on armoured vehicles in Libya earlier this year (AFP)

Fighting continued to rage in eastern Libya on Tuesday, as the UN warned that the numbers of people internally displaced throughout the country have doubled since September.

Twenty-one troops fighting with the internationally recognised government have been killed since Saturday during fierce battles near the eastern town of Derna.

Government forces from the House of Representatives, which has its headquarters in eastern Libya, on Saturday began an offensive to regain control of the town of Ain Mara, some 15 kilometres east of Derna.

The clashes were mostly with the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, a small armed group that has most recently fought fierce battles with the Islamic State group (IS) in a southern suburb of the large coastal town of Derna.

The high death toll was reported as diplomatic efforts intensified, aiming to find a political solution to a crisis that has seen nearly half a million people forced to leave their homes.

The UN’s refugee agency said on Tuesday that over 80,000 families have now been displaced, with many of them now reliant on aid.

The UN envoy to Libya, Bernadino Leon, said on Monday that he was hopeful that peace talks aimed at forming a unity government would resume in Morocco on Thursday.

Leon said only “two or three” stumbling blocks remained in the way of forming a unity government in a country currently ruled by two rival parliaments, one in the west and the other in the east.

Libya’s neighbours and international partners are keen to see a solution to spiralling violence in the north African country, where people smugglers are increasingly taking advantage of the chaos to launch boats overcrowded with migrants headed for European shores.

As well as an increase in irregular migration, Europe has been concerned at rising levels of violence and the potential for a spillover into Libya’s more stable regional neighbours.

Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that Seifeddine Rezgui, the Tunisian national who killed 38 mostly British holidaymakers at a coastal resort on Friday, had trained in neighbouring Libya.

According to the ministry’s statement, Rezgui received training in the small Libyan town of Sabratha, some 100 kilometres from the border with Tunisia, at the same time as militants who would go on to kill 12 people in a mass shooting in January at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.