US, Europe, Middle East top diplomats meet to discuss Libya crisis

Chief diplomats from 20 global and regional powers are meeting on Monday in Vienna to discuss ways to strengthen Libya's fragile UN-backed government and to stabilize the country that has become a hub for extremists and people smugglers.

The power vacuum created by Libya's two rival administrations since mid-2014, each backed by competing militias, and the chaos following the toppling of dictator Moamer Gaddafi in 2011 has enabled Islamic State extremists to establish a foothold in the oil-producing country.

The question was whether terrorism, smuggling and instability would further expand in the North African country near Europe, or whether the new government would be able to win back stability and a sense of national unity, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

"At this moment, this is still an open question," he told reporters shortly before the meeting began.

Security issues top the agenda at the talks hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

"We are not asking for foreign boots on the ground, but we are requesting assistance with training, and lifting the arms embargo on Libya," the country's premier-designate, Fayez Serraj, wrote Sunday in Britain's Daily Telegraph.

"Libya is a keystone for access to the Sahel, the Maghreb, the Near East, the Mediterranean, and Europe. And to have Daesh get a foothold in Libya is bad for everybody," a senior US State Department official told reporters ahead of the talks, using an Arabic name for Islamic State.

"We're expecting that the [meeting] will show the international community lining up unambiguously behind the government of national accord as the recipient of security assistance in Libya," the official said.

Serraj was among the participants at the Vienna talks, along with chief diplomats from the European Union, North Africa and the Middle East, as well as the UN veto powers.

In March, a national unity government formed under a UN-sponsored peace deal revived international hopes that it will be able to re-establish stability and stop Islamic State's expansion.

Based in Tripoli, it has limited influence elsewhere in the country, and it has yet to win a vote of confidence by the elected parliament based in Tobruk.

However, Steinmeier noted that the government had recently won the backing of Libya's central bank and had taken over control of the vital Oil Ministry.

Some Western countries have been mulling airstrikes against Islamic State in Libya, but UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler has warned that such operations would be premature if there is no effective Libyan army that can take control of bombed cities.

European countries are keen to see a stable Libya because they want to stop the lawlessness that has turned the country into a major hub for migrants seeking to go to Europe.

Kobler estimates that at least 100,000 people could cross the Mediterranean from Libya to southern Europe this year.

The officials will also hold crisis talks on Syria on Tuesday, and are expected to broker talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the recent flare-up of violence between the two countries.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25
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