Libya speaker: No deals while armed groups 'kidnap' Tripoli

FILE - In this Friday, March 18, 2011 file photo, then Libyan senior Rebel commander Khalifa Hafter leaves a press conference in the court house in the center of Benghazi, eastern Libya. Libya has been plunged into chaos again, with forces loyal to a polarizing military commander marching on the capital and trading fire with militias aligned with a weak U.N.-backed government. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — Libya's Parliament speaker in the east said Wednesday no peace deal can be reached right now between rival factions in his country because the capital, Tripoli, has been "kidnapped" by armed groups.

Aguila Saleh, speaker of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, told The Associated Press in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Hifter has stepped in to "liberate" Tripoli.

Hours later, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a cease-fire, saying there is still time "to avoid the worst which would be a dramatic bloody battle for Tripoli."

The U.N. chief, who visited Libya on Friday, said after briefing the Security Council behind closed doors that the situation is "very dangerous" and stressed that there is no military solution.

"It is very clear for me that we need to restart a serious political dialogue and a serious political negotiation, but it is obvious that that cannot take place without fully stop of the hostilities," Guterres said.

Germany's U.N. ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, the current Security Council president, said the secretary-general's call for a cease-fire "was echoed" by council members who also urged talks and a return to the political track.

Libya slid into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Elections were held shortly after Gadhafi's demise, but failed to bring stability.

The oil-rich North African country is now governed by rival administrations — a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli and the west and Hifter and his supporters in the east. Libya has also become a haven for armed groups, including several from neighboring countries and a major conduit for African migrants hoping to reach Europe.

Hifter's Libyan National Army forces launched a major military offensive earlier this month aimed at capturing Tripoli, clashing with rival militias that support the U.N.-backed government there.

The escalation has threatened to plunge the fractured nation deeper into chaos and ignite civil war on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled Gadhafi.

"The capital has been kidnapped.... the military (LNA) has stepped in with only one goal, which is to root such groups out of the capital," Parliament speaker Saleh said.

He said it would be impossible to hold next week's U.N.-planned peace conference, given the current conditions.

A U.N-supported national conference set for mid-April was to forge a political roadmap that would restore order in Libya, where lawlessness has fed Islamic militancy, human trafficking and instability in the wider region. Moving toward parliamentary and presidential elections was a key goal of conference.

U.N. envoy Ghasan Salame announced Tuesday that the National Conference scheduled for April 14-16 is being postponed because it can't be held "against the backdrop of artillery bombardment and air raids."

The International Organization for Migration said, meanwhile, that the escalation in violence in and around Tripoli has resulted in the displacement of more than 5,800 people who have fled their homes.

Germany's Heusgen said Security Council members expressed concern at the plight of displaced people and refugees, the humanitarian situation, and the need to respect human rights.

___

Associated Press writers Samy Magdy in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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