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With Libya in Peril, Peace Talks Start in Geneva

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Bernardino Leon addresses a news conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Jan. 14, 2015.

A new round of U.N. mediated peace talks on Libya has begun amidst warnings the country is on the brink of chaos.

U.N. mediator Bernardino Leon does not appear to be overly concerned by the absence of some members of the Libya Dawn faction. He said he hoped they would join the talks when they vote Sunday on whether to participate. In the meantime, Leon said, other members of the group and representatives of the internationally recognized government are attending the meeting.

Two rival governments have been fighting for control of Libya since former dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown three years ago. Western countries are increasingly concerned about instability in Libya spilling over into a wider conflict in the Mediterranean and Europe.

Leon told VOA that Libya was running out of time. He noted that the governor of the central bank said the financial and economic collapse of the country might be just days or weeks away. He said terrorist attacks were increasing and fighting was intensifying.

“If you put together all these elements, the picture is really very difficult," he said. "How many opportunities, how much time will Libya have to react if they miss this opportunity is difficult to say. But the general impression is that the country is very close to total chaos, and that if they miss this opportunity, it is very difficult to imagine that there will be a situation in the country that will allow easily to start a new process.”

Leon said the goals were to stop the fighting and reach a political settlement acceptable for all Libyans.

“This is a process," he said. "This is going to take time. We are not expecting to have a breakthrough tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. There is a gap between the parties, which is becoming more complicated. There is more fighting on the ground. So, we will try to facilitate these talks and to help them to reach common ground. But it is not going to be easy.”

Leon said the talks would be indirect. The parties will not engage in face-to-face negotiations; he will shuttle between the rival groups and begin working on confidence-building measures. He said that this round was expected to end Friday and that private, bilateral meetings were likely to take place during the weekend.

Leon said he expected talks to resume either Monday or Tuesday.