UN discusses risk of mercenaries’ dispersal from Libya to region

Tensions arose between the United States and Russia during the meeting over Wagner group activities in Libya, diplomats said.
Friday 30/04/2021
A 2019 file picture shows fighting in the al-Sawani area south of the Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)
A 2019 file picture shows fighting in the al-Sawani area south of the Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)

NEW YORK / UN - The UN Security Council on Thursday held its first meeting on the risk of mercenaries in Libya dispersing to other neighbouring countries.

In recent months, Chadian fighters have crossed from Libya to their home country  provoking intensification of clashes and the killing of President Idriss Deby, who recently died from wounds sustained during battle.

After 2011, Tuareg fighters moved from Libya to Mali where they provoked still ongoing chaos.

The closed-door session was requested by members Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, before the death of President Idriss Deby Itno, who was injured on the frontlines of his country’s north, where the Chad army has been fighting Libya-based rebels.

According to diplomats, there are estimated to be “more than 20,000” foreign mercenaries in Libya, whom Libyan authorities, UN officials and world powers have demanded leave.

However dispersal of the mercenaries,who diplomats say include 13,000 Syrian and 11,000 Sudanese fighters,  could represent a new risk for the region.

Forcing the fighters from Libya could have an “impact” on security in the rest of the Sahel, said one diplomat, speaking anonymously.

Another cautioned the international community against solving the problem in Libya by starting another one elsewhere.

Several sources told AFP that no discussion occurred concerning withdrawal of the  heavily-armed fighters during the Security Council meeting.

Two diplomatic sources confirmed that Security Council members on Thursday had established a direct link between the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign fighters in Libya with what occurred in Chad.

The UN is looking at some kind of coordinated withdrawal of fighters from Libya, the diplomats said.

“Without good control, without effective support, what happened in Chad could repeat itself again in this country or it could extend from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, to Sudan, to South Sudan, to Niger, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, to Mozambique,” a diplomat said.

Tensions were high between the United States and Russia during Thursday’s meeting, diplomats said, because of the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization with ties to Moscow that the Americans have linked to Chadian rebels.

Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy said during a press conference just before the Security Council meeting that the allegations were untrue.

“This is like really a very fascinating Hollywood script. It has nothing to do with reality. There are no facts, only reports,” he said.

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Diplomats said Russia responded on Thursday by saying it had voted for the Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on April 16 that authorised up to 60 UN monitors to help implement the cease-fire agreement. It called for full implementation of last October’s cease-fire agreement, “including through the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya without delay.”

Vietnam’s UN ambassador Dang Dinh Quy, the current council president, told several reporters that members stressed the importance of implementing last October’s cease-fire agreement which included the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries within three months. That didn’t happen.

Dang said when a pullout will take place is “a very difficult question” because it depends on many, many factors, first and foremost “the political determination” of UN member states involved in the Libyan conflict.