May 31, 11:15 AM EDT

UN envoy: Libyan forces should fight IS, not each other

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PARIS (AP) -- The U.N. envoy for Libya on Tuesday urged rival factions there to unite against the Islamic State group and stop fighting each other.

Martin Kobler held diplomatic meetings in Paris on reinforcing the fledgling U.N.-backed government as various Libyan forces are advancing on Islamic State strongholds.

He called for a joint army - "a sound effective structure for the fight against Daesh. Libyans should not fight amongst each other. They should fight united against the terrorism in this country." Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the IS group.

Different militias loyal to the U.N.-backed government, as well as military forces allied with authorities based in the east, are making unilateral moves against the central city of Sirte, the main IS bastion in Libya.

IS has exploited the turmoil gripping Libya since the 2011 uprising that ended Moammar Gadhafi's four-decade rule. The U.N.-backed government has faced opposition from various factions, and a patchwork of militias control most of the country.

Kobler said defeating IS "requires a military solution," but "must be first a Libyan fight."

The Libyan ambassador to Italy, speaking Tuesday in Rome, insisted there are no foreign troops fighting IS extremists, dismissing reports in recent days about British special forces in Misrata fighting alongside the militias against IS in Sirte.

"Formally and officially, I can tell you that the (unity government) has not welcomed any foreign troops operating on the ground or facilitated the presence of foreign groups in Libya," Ahmed Elmabrouk Safar told reporters. He said Libyan officials have asked for "technical support in security and administration" through the U.N.

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Paolo Santalucia in Rome contributed to this report.

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