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Pressure mounts on Libya’s Haftar to halt Tripoli offensive

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REUTERS  Philippe Wojazer  File

The U.N. secretary-general said he is "deeply concerned" after meeting eastern commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya on Friday to try to avert renewed civil war as his forces advanced on Tripoli to challenge the internationally recognized government.

There were no reports of significant fighting on Saturday, a day after an LNA spokesman and residents reported that Haftar's forces had seized Tripoli's former global airport.

Fighters from Haftar's self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) reached a checkpoint some 30 kilometres from Tripoli, however a pro-government militia pushed them back, AFP reported. The Government of National Accord commands little territorial authority in a country run by different militias and a rival parliament based in the east.

There was no independent confirmation of that, but a video posted online purportedly showed LNA fighters inside Qasr ben Ghashir suburb, which includes the airport.

Abdelwahed said the site and a clutch of other nearby neighbourhoods were "witnessing military deployments and sporadic fighting", accounting for one of four "major confrontation" zones. However it said two of its soldiers had been wounded in clashes in a nearby area.

Libya has remained beset by turmoil since 2011, when a bloody NATO-backed uprising led to the ouster and death of President Muammar Gaddafi after four decades in power.

Meanwhile, armed groups allied to the United Nations -backed Tripoli government moved more machine gun-mounted pickups from the coastal city of Misrata to Tripoli to defend it against Haftar's forces.

Anti-government forces say they were targeted by a plane which had taken off from western Misrata.

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Haftar's troops on Thursday captured the town of Gharyan, some 50km south of Tripoli without a fight, putting them closer to the militias than ever before.

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The UN's conference of key players is set to draw up a "roadmap" to lead Libya towards legislative and presidential elections.

"We, the Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and the EU High Representative, gathered in Saint-Malo on 5 April express our deepest concern about military operations near Tripoli, Libya".

As well as visiting Haftar in Benghazi, UN boss Guterres had been in Tripoli this week to help organise a national reconciliation conference planned for later this month.

The movements from Haftar came as a surprise with the United Nations in the country to broker peace with UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

In a statement on Saturday, Human Rights Watch warned that civilians could be caught in the middle of fighting.

He added that they will continue fighting until the threat is eliminated.

Diplomats from G7 countries, which includes the U.S., France, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, were working on a joint statement on the fight against trafficking drugs, arms and migrants in Africa's troubled Sahel region, fighting cybercrime and stopping sexual violence against women in conflict zones, especially in Africa.

In addition to political and military chaos in Libya, there have also been reports of gross human rights violations there.

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