Diplomats urge Libyan leaders to adopt peace plan as Islamic State gains ground

ROME -- Diplomats from the United States, Europe and the Mideast met Sunday with leaders of Libya's rival political factions to impress upon them the need to adopt a UN-brokered national unity plan aimed at rescuing the country from chaos and preventing Islamic State extremists from gaining more ground.

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"We call on all parties to accept an immediate, comprehensive cease-fire in all parts of Libya" and sign that deal, as they have pledged, in Morocco on Wednesday, the international participants said in a joint statement.

"We stand behind the Libyan people's efforts to transform Libya into a secure, democratic, prosperous and unified state, where all its people can be reconciled, (and) state authority and the rule of law are restored."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni led the conference that included representatives from 17 nations, the European Union, the African Union, the Arab League and the United Nations. The officials later brought in 15 representatives from the Libyan sides.

"The leaders who are here, we are convinced, speak for most Libyans. Those leaders have endorsed what is the only legitimate basis for moving ahead," Kerry said at a news conference. "We refuse to stand by and watch a vacuum filled by terrorists."

The UN special envoy for Libya, Martin Kobler, mediated the session in Tunisia at which some 40 Libyan lawmakers from the two sides agreed to sign the deal.

Libya slid into chaos following the 2011 toppling and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, it has been torn between an internationally recognized government in eastern Tobruk and an Islamist-backed government in the capital, Tripoli, and now faces threats from Islamic State extremists.

The UN plan calls for the creation within 40 days of a national unity government that would then seek security assistance from outside parties to ease the conflict and concentrate on IS. It would give the Libyans until early February to form a presidency council that would appoint a cabinet, including chiefs of the central bank and national oil company, and begin the process of moving the Tobruk-based parliament back to Tripoli.

Libya's oil industry has been largely crippled by the crisis. Proper management, as well as that of the central bank, is considered essential to the country's viability.

The plan would extend the reconstituted parliament's term by one year and allow for an automatic one-year extension of its mandate beyond that, if necessary.

The UN Security Council is expected to approve of the agreement shortly after it is signed by the Libyans.

IS is trying to extend its influence beyond areas it now controls, including the city of Sirte. The envisioned "government of national accord" is seen as critically important to help restore security and to mobilize international support to counter the extremists.

The United Nations and many countries concerned about Libyan crisis and the rise of IS stepped up efforts to get the rival governments to accept the power-sharing agreement since the factions rejected the deal in October.

"Libya is in a race against time," Kobler told the UN Security Council on Friday. "Its very social fabric, national unity and territorial integrity is directly endangered by the forces of extremism and terrorism."

The Security Council has welcomed that date and expressed "grave concern" at the expansion of Islamic State extremists and their threat to Libya and the region. Council members "stressed that a unity government must be formed swiftly to counter this threat" and they again threatened sanctions against those impeding the restoration of peace and stability.

Associated Press writer Frances D'Emilio contributed to this report.



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