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US urges Libya ceasefire as landmines kill 7 in capital

Fighters loyal to Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord pose for a picture with a children's bicycle  as they celebrate the capture of the town of Tarhuna, about 65 kilometres southeast of the capital Tripoli
Fighters loyal to Libya's UN-recognised Government of National Accord pose for a picture with a children's bicycle as they celebrate the capture of the town of Tarhuna, about 65 kilometres southeast of the capital Tripoli Mahmud TURKIA AFP/File
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Tripoli (AFP)

Washington called for a ceasefire in Libya and urged warring parties to protect its oil sector Wednesday as the unity government said landmines had killed at least seven people in the capital.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's call came as the UN said it had held "productive" talks separately with officers from the unity government and rival forces backing military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The deadly explosions in Tripoli took place days after the Government of National Accord (GNA) declared itself back in full control of the capital and its suburbs after fending off Haftar's year-long offensive to seize it.

"Seven people were killed in landmine explosions in several locations in the south of Tripoli, and 10 others were wounded," ministry spokesman Amin al-Hashemi told AFP.

Those killed were four civilians and three mine-clearing experts, he said, adding that the blasts took place in the Ain Zara and Wadi Rabi districts on the southern edges of Tripoli, controlled by forces backing Haftar until May.

Human Rights Watch earlier this month accused pro-Haftar forces of laying Russian and Soviet-era landmines as they withdrew from Tripoli's southern districts.

Pro-Haftar forces, which are backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, had been battling since April last year to seize Tripoli from the UN-recognised government.

In recent weeks GNA forces, reinforced with Turkish drones and air defences, have staged a withering fightback to regain control of the whole of the country's northwest.

- Counteroffensive -

The GNA's counter-assault is the latest round of fighting in years of violence following the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a Western-backed uprising.

GNA forces are hoping now to take back the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya's oil fields.

But Pompeo on Wednesday backed calls for a ceasefire, urging the warring parties to keep out Russian influence and preserve the country's vast crude oil reserves.

"Quick and in-good-faith negotiations are now required to implement a ceasefire and relaunch the UN-led intra-Libyan political talks," Pompeo told reporters.

He was speaking shortly after European leaders also backed a truce and talks in a joint military commission made up of officers from both sides.

"It's time for all Libyans on all sides to act so that neither Russia nor any other country can interfere in Libya's sovereignty for its own gain," Pompeo said.

A UN report found that Haftar has enjoyed support from a shadowy Russian mercenary group, with Washington charging the sophisticated equipment on the ground could only come from Moscow.

- GNA vows to push on -

Like the US and the EU, Haftar's backer Egypt has called for a ceasefire following his losses in Tripoli.

But the resurgent GNA has vowed to push on for Sirte, Kadhafi's hometown and the last major settlement before the traditional boundary between western Libya and Haftar's stronghold in the east.

The UN's Libya mission said Wednesday it had held talks with both sides as part of the joint military commission, set up following a January peace conference.

UNSMIL said it had met virtually last week with Haftar's forces and on Tuesday with GNA officers, commending "the seriousness and the commitment of both parties".

But, it added in a statement, "it calls on them to de-escalate to avoid further civilian casualties and new waves of displacement."

Neither of the warring sides has commented on the latest talks.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country, which hosted the January conference in Berlin, was "extremely concerned" by the hostilities and welcomed the latest push to end them.

The fighting for Tripoli has left hundreds dead and forced 200,000 to flee their homes.

Almost a decade of violence has also caused repeated shutdowns of Libyan oil installations, vital in a country where almost all state revenues come from crude exports.

The National Oil Company in recent days resumed production at two oil fields including the country's largest after Haftar's forces were driven out.

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