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US urges strongman to end Tripoli offensive

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Washington (AFP)

The United States has urged Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar to end his offensive to seize Tripoli and accused Russia of exploiting the conflict.

The US made its most explicit call against the self-styled Libyan National Army of Haftar, who was earlier praised by President Donald Trump, after a delegation from Libya's fledgling unity government held talks in Washington on Thursday.

"The United States calls on the 'Libyan National Army' to end its offensive on Tripoli," a joint statement said.

"This will facilitate further US-Libya cooperation to prevent undue foreign interference, reinforce legitimate state authority and address the issues underlying the conflict."

The United States also "underscored support for Libya's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's attempts to exploit the conflict against the will of the Libyan people," it said.

Russian mercenaries have been reported to be fighting on the side of Haftar.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that the fighters were believed to be controlled by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, an allegation denied by Moscow.

Haftar in April launched an offensive to seize Tripoli that has killed more than 1,000 people.

Western powers have sent mixed signals with France and Italy welcoming Haftar for visits and Trump after a phone call hailing his role in "fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources."

But the United States later distanced itself from Haftar and joined calls for a ceasefire.

Haftar enjoys strong support from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which appreciate his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, the broad Islamist movement across the Arab world.

Turkey and Qatar back the Government of National Accord, which has been endorsed by the United Nations in hopes that Libya can end years of turmoil.

The State Department said US officials met with the Libyan delegation which included Foreign Minister Taher Siala, who was taking part in a meeting of the coalition against the Islamic State group.

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