Libya’s fragile unity government is hosting senior foreign officials to drum up support on spiky transitional issues as the war-torn country gears up for a landmark election.

The conference on Thursday comes two months ahead of planned presidential polls under a United Nations-led peace process that seeks to end a decade of conflict and chaos.

Tripoli has said the world body’s Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Libya envoy Jan Kubis will attend.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday he would also be there, and officials from regional powers including Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also expected, according to the Libyan state news agency LANA.

Mohamed Hammouda, a spokesman of the interim government, was cited by LANA as saying that the conference was a positive step towards stability.

Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from Tripoli, said the event marked a milestone because it was being held in Libya itself, with previous conferences on the situation in the North African country being held overseas.

“Libyans are happy to see that Tripoli is safe enough for senior officials to arrive in their country,” Traina said. “There is hope Libya will be recognised around the world as a sovereign and respectable country,” he added.

Libya and the United Nations have been striving to turn the page on the violence that has ripped apart the country since the 2011 overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising.

After disputed elections in 2014, the country was carved up by rival factions backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.

A ceasefire between eastern and western-based factions last year led to a unity government taking office in March with a mandate to take the country to elections.

The presidential and parliamentary votes were set for the same day – December 24 – but last month the parliament announced that the legislative elections, the country’s first since 2014, would be postponed until January.

Thursday’s conference aims to “gather the necessary support, in a transparent way” for the presidential election, said Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush in a video published by the ministry on Sunday.

Foreign powers have been pushing hard for the election to be held as scheduled after the date was agreed at the UN-led talks last year. But the process has been beset by sharp disagreements over the legal basis for the vote.

Libya expert Emadeddin Badi said the basis for the polls was “becoming more precarious by the day”.

But the conference aims to “capitalise on the momentum to see Libya stabilised, because several countries do actually want to see a stable Libya, even if on their own terms”, he told the AFP news agency.

Foreign interference

Mangoush said the conference seeks to promote “respect for Libya’s sovereignty and independence [as well as] preventing negative foreign interference”.

Foreign powers have backed various sides in Libya’s complex war, and the presence of mercenaries and foreign troops is one of the toughest obstacles to lasting peace.

Last December, the UN estimated that 20,000 foreign fighters were present in Libya.

They range from Russians sent by the shadowy Kremlin-linked Wagner group to African and Syrian mercenaries and Turkish soldiers deployed under a deal with a previous unity government at the height of the last round of east-west fighting.

The fate of these fighters will feature high on the agenda at Thursday’s conference, Mangoush said, adding that the foreign armed presence “represents a threat not just to Libya but to the entire region”.

Traina said the interim government was expected to push for the withdrawal of the fighters before the election.

“The Libyans have come up with a plan to expel these foreign fighters and they are hoping that the international community that is here today will help and support them in this, as making these foreign fighters leave the country is integral to holding a fair election,” he said.

The minimal progress since a January deadline for their full departure under a ceasefire deal reflects the complexity of the issue.

Earlier this month, a joint commission of eastern and western military commanders agreed to a plan for their departure, but it lacked a timeline.

Tripoli has said a “very modest” number of fighters have left.

Last but not least on the list of Libya’s woes is the question of integrating and unifying the country’s armed forces under a single command, forces that as recently as last year were fighting each other.

And while in theory the country has a unity government, its east is largely controlled by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, widely expected to stand as a presidential candidate but despised by many in Libya’s west.

This content was originally published here.

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