Libya says ‘very modest start’ to withdrawal of foreign fighters

Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush’s remarks come before a conference on Libyan stability later this month.

The UN estimates 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters are deployed in the country [File: Ricard Garcia Vilanova/AP Photo]

Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush has announced a “very modest start” to the withdrawal of foreign fighters from the war-torn North African country.

Oil-rich Libya is seeking to emerge from a decade of chaos since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, a period marked by bloody violence involving militias, foreign fighters, and armed groups.

The country was split between rival administrations: the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital, Tripoli, and a separate eastern-based administration, led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar. Each was backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.

The UN estimates 20,000 foreign combatants are deployed in the country, including Russians from the private security company Wagner, Chadians, Sudanese and Syrians.

“The news is true … It’s a very modest start,” Mangoush told a news conference in Kuwait City in response to a question on the pullout of foreign forces.

Libyan authorities are “aiming for the departure of a larger number”, she said, and to implement “a larger, more comprehensive” departure strategy.

“That is what we will try to achieve during the conference on Libyan stability at the end of this month,” she added, referring to a meeting announced by Libya’s presidential council chief Mohamed al-Manfi.

Mangoush did not specify the number of foreign fighters that had already left the country.

Russian mercenaries supporting Haftar’s side are in the east of the country, while Turkey has troops in Tripoli, which it argues were sent under a bilateral agreement with the government, implying they are not affected by the request for foreign soldiers to leave.

The UN, Libya, and several other countries have repeatedly called for the departure of foreign forces from Libyan soil.

Last week, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that could sanction foreign actors supporting rival factions in Libya.

According to the bill, sanctions can be imposed on “foreign persons leading, directing, or supporting certain foreign government involvement in Libya … foreign persons threatening the peace or stability of Libya … [and] foreign persons who are responsible for or complicit in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights committed in Libya”.

Following a 2020 ceasefire deal, a unified Libyan transitional government was formed earlier this year under UN auspices, with the aim of leading the country to elections scheduled for December 24.

But thorny negotiations over electoral laws have placed growing doubts over the process.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies