December 21, 2017 / 1:00 PM / 9 months ago

French foreign minister tells Libya's factions to respect U.N. talks

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - France told the leaders of Libya’s rival factions there was no alternative to U.N. talks to stabilise the oil producer and prepare for elections in 2018, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday.

The North African country has two rival governments, one in the east and a U.N.-backed administration in the capital Tripoli in the west, in a conflict stemming from the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

France was a leading player in the NATO intervention against Gaddafi, sending warplanes to bomb his forces.

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 spring, but they broke off after one month.

“I said there is no alternative (to the U.N. plan) for you,” Le Drian told reporters after meeting in Benghazi the powerful eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar who declared the U.N. process obsolete on the weekend.

He said Haftar and Tripoli Prime Minister Fayez al-Seraj had both told him they were committed to the elections.

“You need to put yourself at the service of your country,” he said after meeting Haftar, summing up his one day-talks in Tripoli and Benghazi. “I’m relatively optimistic of what will happen next.”

The U.N. talks had stumbled over the question of what role Haftar should play. He indicated on Sunday he wants to run as a presidential candidate.

Haftar remains popular among Libyans in the east who are weary of the chaos, but he faces opposition in western Libya.

Le Drian said Haftar had told him that Libyans wanted confidence measures so the vote would be credible, which he said was understandable.

The eastern-based House of Representatives on Tuesday widened divisions between east and west by approving a new central bank governor. The bank’s Tripoli headquarters and U.N. rejected the move.

Le Drian also said a political deal would help solve the crisis of thousands of illegal migrants stuck in detention centres in Libya whom human rights groups said often faced abuse.

Libyan officials deny this but say they are overwhelmed with a flood of migrants.

Libya is the main departure point for illegal migrants heading for Europe by boat.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson

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