TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled Saturday to Libya to support a reconciliation process between warring factions there, calling on renegade general fighting Islamist militias in its east to stop his operations and on armed groups to leave the capital's airport.
Ban was in Libya days after the U.N. launched a reconciliation process that seeks to resolve the bloody rift that has left their oil-rich North African nation deeply split with two separate parliaments and governments.
Stressing the need to end the fighting, Ban appealed to all armed groups to put their weapons down, saying that a military solution will not be sustainable.
"The international community can't tolerate the continuous spilling of Libyan blood," Ban told a televised meeting that brought together representatives from rival political groups. Italy's Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, and other European diplomats also attended the meeting.
Libya witnessed a spasm of violence this summer when militias mainly from the western city of Misrata and groups allied to Islamists swept through the capital, Tripoli, backing a government appointed by the country's previous parliament. Libya's newly elected parliament and its government backed by non-Islamists, driven out of the capital, have been meeting in the country's east.
Violence has displaced 287,000 people across Libya, including 100,000 in fighting on the outskirts of Tripoli in the last three weeks alone, the U.N. reported.
Meanwhile, renegade Gen. Khalifa Hifter launched a campaign against Islamist groups in the country's east, setting off fighting that has raged over the summer. Forces loyal to Hifter have been pushed back by a coalition of Islamist militias, including radical groups. But fighting has continued and at least 15,000 have been displaced around Benghazi.
"We ask for all groups to stop fighting," Ban said. "The United Nations also strongly demands that all military and armed groups withdraw from all Libyan cities, from airports and official buildings, in order to pave the way for legitimate bodies to work and meet the Libyan people's needs."
Ban's visit to Tripoli is his second to Libya since the 2011 fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The U.N.-sponsored dialogue was launched on Sept. 29.
Ban said the end of the fighting has to take hold without any preconditions.
"The country can't afford to be politically divided for such a long time," he said.
The U.N. recognizes the newly elected parliament and the government it backs. But Ban said that legitimacy has to ensure all Libyan are represented.
Mogherini said Libya's European neighbors and the international community are concerned about Libya's stability and the spillover effect of the chaos, in reference to illegal migration and the spread of violent groups.
"It is time for brave and responsible leadership," she said.
In the televised session, the U.N. Special Representative for Libya Bernardino Leon said the Libyan capital will be "for the next few hours again the capital of a united Libya."
Leon said the dialogue's working sessions will begin in two weeks, urging lawmakers represented at the talks to use the time to lobby for unity. He said a parallel security dialogue also will take place with armed groups.
The meeting was attended by 12 lawmakers from the elected parliament and 13 of those lawmakers who boycotted the new House of Representatives.
The deputy head of the elected parliament Emhemed Shaib said the dialogue represents a "historic chance" to restore stability to Libya.
One of the boycotting lawmakers, Fathi Bashagha, an Islamist, said the discussion has to be a "political dialogue," not one about religion or ideology. He said fears of the return of Gadhafi-era figures must be taken into consideration and urged countries in the region to support the reconciliation process.