United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has said foreign fighters and mercenaries remain in Libya in breach of a ceasefire agreement last year, calling for their withdrawal and an end to violations of the UN arms embargo.
In a report to the UN Security Council, Guterres said on Friday the smooth transfer of power in March to a new interim Government of National Unity (GNU) “brings renewed hope for the reunification of the country and its institutions and for a lasting peace”. However, he said progress must continue on the political, economic and security tracks to enable elections to go ahead late this year.
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Libya has been torn by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2011 and eventually split the oil-rich country between a UN-recognised government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east. Each side was backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and eastern-based forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and Russian mercenaries, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. The 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-recognised government with troops and Syrian mercenaries.
An October 2020 ceasefire agreement that included a demand for all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the new transitional government of national unity and elections planned for December 24.
The UN estimated in December 2020 that there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. But at an informal council meeting in late April, speakers said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, according to diplomats.
‘No reduction of foreign troops’
Guterres said in the new report that while the ceasefire continues to hold, the UN political mission in Libya has received reports of fortifications and defensive positions being set up in central Libya on the key route between the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to the country’s key oil fields and export terminals, and Jufra.
“Despite the commitments made by the parties, air cargo activities reportedly continued with flights to various air bases in Libya’s western and eastern regions,” the secretary-general said. “Reports indicated that there was no reduction of foreign fighters or of their activities in central Libya.”
Guterres said the GNU must prioritise security sector reform including filling senior civilian and military appointments, producing a road map for reunifying the Libyan army and addressing the proliferation of armed groups.
“Bringing one of the world’s largest uncontrolled stocks of arms and ammunition under state control is vital,” he said. “I reiterate my call on member states and Libyan national actors to put an end to violations of the arms embargo and to facilitate the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the country.”
Last month, the Security Council approved a resolution urging all foreign forces and mercenaries to leave Libya and authorising a small UN team to monitor the ceasefire agreement. In an April 7 letter to the council, Guterres proposed an initial maximum of 60 monitors for a phased deployment as part of the UN mission in the country.