UN presses Libya peace talks under shadow of drownings

As many as 41 migrants have drowned after another boat carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean on the crossing from Libya.

Bernardino Leon, special representative and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, holds a press conference on April 15, 2015 in the Morrocan city of Skirate, ahead of a new round of peace talks on the Libyan conflict. Fadel Senna/AFP Photo
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SKHIRAT, MOROCCO // Delegates from Libya’s rival parliaments gathered in Morocco on Thursday for what UN mediators demanded be a “final” push for a unity government to stem mounting extremism and a desperate exodus of asylum-seekers.

Rival governments have battled for power in the North African country since last August and on Wednesday an air trike blamed on the internationally recognised administration hit an airbase controlled by its opponent.

Militants loyal to the ISIL group which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria have exploited the power struggle to launch increasingly grisly attacks including the videotaped beheadings of 21 Christians in February.

UN envoy Bernardino Leon, who has been shuttling between the warring sides for months, said that the reported drowning of up to 400 would-be asylum-seekers off the Libyan coast earlier this week should be the spur for an agreement.

“I really hope that the negotiators that are coming today are understanding that we cannot wait any more and this will really be the final round,” Mr Leon said.

The UN envoy called on the rival negotiating teams to thrash out the full details of a unity government, including the names of ministers, to replace the rival administrations in Tripoli and Tobruk.

“This is Libya today — terrorism, no control on the borders, people dying every day in the Mediterranean, airstrikes ... it cannot go on,” said Mr Leon.

On Thursday, at least 41 migrants drowned after another boat carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean, Italian media reported.

Survivors said their inflatable vessel carrying 45 people sank on the crossing from Libya. It came days after some 400 people drowned when their boat capsized off Libya.

Italy pleaded for more help to rescue migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean on Thursday, and demanded a “clear answer” from the European Union about where the refugees should be sent.

The same day, Italian police arrested 15 African Muslim migrants after witnesses said they had thrown 12 Christian passengers overboard following a brawl on a boat heading to Italy.

* Agence France-Presse