April 19, 2018 / 5:24 PM / 5 months ago

Rockets hit Libya airport as U.N., French officials visit to talk peace

TRIPOLI, April 19 (Reuters) - Rockets hit Libya’s main airport and damaged a plane as it was waiting to take off early on Thursday, a security force said, the same day as the United Nations envoy and France’s ambassador were visiting the capital to discuss a peace plan.

One rocket hit an Airbus 320 and others struck the arrivals hall at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport at around 2 a.m. (midnight GMT), but no one was injured, a spokesman for the Special Deterrence Force (Rada) said.

U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame and French ambassador Brigitte Curmi arrived at the same airport - the only one operating in the city. Their offices did not immediately release a statement on the attack or say when they landed.

Tripoli has been controlled by a patchwork of armed groups since a 2011 uprising that toppled long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi and splintered the country.

There have been rival governments in Tripoli and the east since 2014, when most diplomatic missions evacuated to neighbouring Tunisia.

Armed groups fighting for territory and power have regularly attacked Tripoli’s transport hubs - undermining the government’s efforts to persuade diplomatic missions to return to the capital.

Airlines have also struggled to maintain services and keep the oil-producing country connected to the outside world as attacks damage their planes.

Rada, a security grup that controls the airport alligned to Libya’s internationally recognised government, said the rockets were fired by men loyal to a militia leader known as Bashir “the Cow”, a group it has clashed with before.

France’s Curmi met representatives of that govenrment in Tripoli at around 9 a.m., and the U.N.’s Salame held his meeting in the early afternoon.

When asked whether elections would be held this year, Salame said after meeting Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala: “Sure. We promised this the U.N. Security Council.” He did not elaborate.

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 divisions have prevented reaching an accord.

Mitiga is a military air base near the centre of Tripoli that began hosting civilian flights after the international airport was put out of service in 2014. (Reporting by Tripoli newsroom Writing by Ulf Laessing Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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