UN stresses ‘significant threat’ of mercenaries in Libya for region
UNITED NATIONS— The UN special envoy for Libya warned the Security Council on Friday that progress on the key issue of withdrawing mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya has stalled and their continued presence is a threat not only to Libya but to the entire African region.
Jan Kubis said recent disturbing events in neighbouring Chad, where rebels were blamed for last month’s killing of longtime president Idriss Deby Into, are a reminder of the link between the security situation in Libya and the security and stability in the region.
“The high mobility of armed groups and terrorists but also economic migrants and refugees, often through channels operated by organised criminal networks and other local players across uncontrolled borders only enhances risks of furthering instability and insecurity in Libya and the region,” he said.
Kubis said the UN mission in Libya, known as UNSMIL, reported “the continuing presence of foreign elements, mercenaries and assets, thus entrenching the division of Libya.”
The October cease-fire that called for mercenaries and foreign fighters to leave in 90 days continues to hold, Kubis said, but failure to get them to leave could affect Libya’s political transition and the December elections.
Kubis also said the continued presence of foreign fighters and armed groups “is a significant threat not just to Libya security, but to the region as a whole.”
“It is therefore critical to plan and ensure an orderly departure of foreign fighters, mercenaries, and armed groups together with their disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in the countries of origin,” he said.
The UN estimated in December that there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. But diplomats said speakers at an informal council meeting in late April said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese.
Earlier this month, Najla al-Manqoush, foreign minister of Libya’s interim government, called for the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Cavusoglu responded by saying that Turkish forces were in Libya as part of a training agreement reached with a previous Libya administration. “There are those who equate our legal presence … with the foreign mercenary groups that fight in this country for money,” he said.
He did not, however, address the issue of Syrian militants and mercenaries dispatched by Ankara to fight in Libya.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gadhafi in 2011 and split the oil-rich North African country between a Tripoli-based government and rival authorities in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
An October cease-fire led to the formation of a joint interim government, which took power in March, and is tasked with bringing together the divided country and steering it through presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24.
As for the UN arms embargo against Libya, which UN experts reported recently has been continuously violated, Kubis said the UN mission continues to receive reports of cargoes of arms and military supplies arriving at military bases in the west, east and south.
The reports pointed to fortifications and defensive positions being set up along the Sirte-Jufra axis as well as air force training activities, he said.
“Progress on key issues such as the reopening of the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata and the start of the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries, fighters and foreign forces has stalled,” he added.
“Further delays in reopening the road work against efforts to build trust between the two sides and could undermine efforts to advance the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, to advance the political transition,” he warned.
US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield also criticised the lack of political progress.
“It’s time for the Libyan leadership to clarify the constitutional basis for the election (planned for December 24), pass the required legislation and ensure elections are not delayed,” she said, calling for progress before July 1.
Thomas-Greenfield agreed, saying that “external actors involved in the conflict must cease their military interference and begin to withdraw from Libya immediately.”
“There is no room for interpretation here. All means all,” she continued.
The fear that armed groups will leave Libya to deploy in the region was raised by several Security Council members, who recalled the recent destabilisation in Chad that led to the death of its president Idriss Deby.
“We fear that the guns that fall silent in Libya will resonate more deafeningly in the Sahel, which is undergoing its second wave of impact from the Libyan crisis,” said Niger’s ambassador, Abdou Abarry.
Libya’s ambassador to the UN, Taher El Sonni, recalled that his country asked all states “to respect” what has been agreed in the Security Council resolutions, “in particular the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries in order to ensure that the state asserts its sovereignty over its territory.”
In mid-April the Security Council voted to deploy up to 60 international monitors to the UN political mission in Libya to monitor the cease-fire and withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign fighters.
Kubis said the UN Secretariat in New York and the mission in Libya are planning for an initial deployment of just five observers to the capital, Tripoli.
On a positive note, Kubis said the security situation in Libya “has significantly improved, although clashes between armed militia groups competing for influence, access to and control of territory and resources do occur from time to time.”