June 3, 2020 / 3:10 PM / a month ago

Libya officials hold talks abroad amid fears of more fighting

TUNIS/ANKARA, June 2 (Reuters) - Leaders from Libya’s warring factions were said to be travelling for talks abroad on Wednesday as reported air strikes south of the capital threatened to escalate the conflict further.

After weeks of fighting around Tripoli supported by competing foreign powers, the United Nations said on Monday that both sides had agreed to resume ceasefire talks.

However, the U.N. has warned that a flood of weapons and fighters into Libya in defiance of an arms embargo could fuel more fighting.

The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar has since April 2019 been attacking Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

The LNA is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt. However, Turkish support for the GNA has shifted the balance of power in recent weeks, helping it push the LNA from most of the capital and onto the back foot..

All those countries have publicly welcomed the decision to resume U.N.-sponsored ceasefire talks.

GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj is expected in Ankara late on Wednesday, Turkish broadcasters reported.

His deputy Ahmed Maiteeg and GNA Foreign Minister Mohamed Siyala had earlier arrived in Moscow, local media said.

“That the legitimate government has the upper hand now should be viewed as an opportunity for a political solution,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a TV interview.

Meanwhile Haftar travelled to Egypt to meet defence officials, a source close to him said.

Last week the United States said Russia had flown at least 14 warplanes to an LNA airbase in central Libya. Russia and the LNA have denied that, with the LNA saying it has refurbished some old Libyan air force jets.

The air battle has been critical, with Turkish drones knocking out LNA air defence systems and supply routes.

On Wednesday, an LNA military source said warplanes had struck near Gharyan, a town taken by the GNA last year.

It would represent the first acknowledged use of warplanes by eastern forces since Washington said Russia had supplied the MiG 29 and Su-24 jets.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Aidan Lewis in Cairo and Angus McDowall in Tunis; Editing by Giles Elgood

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