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EU seeks ways to back Libya peace talks

Updated: 2015-03-16 20:55

BRUSSELS - The European Union on Monday sought ways to support peace talks in Libya as they enter a decisive phase but backed away from launching any security mission until stability returns to the conflict-torn country.

"We've got to establish a cease-fire and get some unity ... before we can talk about how we might support a peace" settlement, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters ahead of an EU foreign ministers meeting.

Central authority has broken down in Libya amid fights between militias, some linked to the extremist Islamic State group, and rival parliaments claim political legitimacy.

U.N.-backed peace talks are due to resume in Morocco on Thursday, and the EU wants to see how those negotiations play out.

"We should focus on political integration right now" before thinking about security options, said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. "It's too early to talk about it."

The EU is concerned that the conflict in Libya could spread to the wider region. Member states are also increasingly concerned that extremist fighters could reach Europe with the thousands of migrants that use Libya as a jumping off point to cross the Mediterranean.

But the EU would not act without an official request from the U.N. or an invitation from Libya itself.

"It doesn't seem that the situation would be appropriate for a U.N. peacekeeping intervention. So we will have to see ... what other potential role would be in place for Europe," said Ireland's European affairs minister, Dara Murphy.

Italy is on the frontline of the immigration wave and has been trying to spur the EU into action, but even Rome wants to focus on the political track for now.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that Italy could eventually help to train Libyan police, but he insisted that political progress must be made first.

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