UN warns against foreign military bases, mercenaries in Libya

“There are now 20,000 foreign forces and/or mercenaries in your country,” the UN’s interim Libya envoy Stephanie Williams told Libyan conferees. “There now 10 military bases in your country… that are today either fully or partially occupied by foreign forces,” she added.
Thursday 03/12/2020
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar talks with Deputy Defence Minister of Libya’s GNA Salahedin al-Namroush and Qatar’s Defence Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah in Tripoli, Libya, August 17, 2020. (AFP)
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar talks with Deputy Defence Minister of Libya’s GNA Salahedin al-Namroush and Qatar’s Defence Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah in Tripoli, Libya, August 17, 2020. (AFP)

TRIPOLI--Twenty thousand foreign forces and mercenaries are in Libya despite a ceasefire and long-standing arms embargo, the UN envoy revealed Wednesday, calling the situation a “shocking violation of Libyan sovereignty.”

Libya has been wracked by violence and chaos since the toppling and killing of longtime ruler Muammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Forces loyal to the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and the eastern Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, formally agreed a ceasefire in October.

The agreement says all military units and armed groups must withdraw from the frontlines while mercenaries and foreign fighters must leave Libyan territory within 90 days.

“There are now 20,000 foreign forces and/or mercenaries in your country. That is a shocking violation of Libyan sovereignty,” the UN’s interim Libya envoy Stephanie Williams told a virtual meeting of a political dialogue forum.

“There now 10 military bases in your country… that are today either fully or partially occupied by foreign forces,” she added.

“They are now occupying your house. This is a blatant violation of the arms embargo… They are pouring weapons into your country, a country which does not need more weapons,” Williams said.

Stephanie Williams, Acting Head of the United Nations Support Mission speaks during a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia, Nov. 15, 2020. AP
Stephanie Williams, Acting Head of the United Nations Support Mission speaks during a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia, Nov. 15, 2020. (AP)

The UN envoy’s remarks reflect her exasperation over the lack of progress on the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, which was part of a ceasefire deal inked in October.

Williams also slammed unspecified foreign governments for “behaving with complete impunity” and deepening the Libyan conflict.

She warned about a looming “collapse of the electrical grid” in Libya because of corruption and mismanagement, adding that a $1 billion investment in the electrical infrastructure is immediately needed, given that only 13 of Libya’s 27 power plants are functioning.

The UN envoy said 1.3 million of Libya’s more than 6.8 million people are expected to need humanitarian assistance in January.

Tensions in Libya escalated when Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019 but was pushed back earlier this year as pro-GNA forces received key military support from Turkey.

In coordination with Qatar, Turkey has set up military bases in Libya, dispatched hundreds of mercenaries and regular military personnel as well as shiploads of equipment, including sophisticated drones to back the GNA headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Trying to appease the US and NATO through claims of standing up to Russia’s presence on the side of the LNA, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signed agreements and held multiple meetings with GNA leaders.

Turkey’s widening footprint in Libya, has sparked the irritation of the European Union.

In recent weeks, Ankara announced the training of Libyan troops in Turkey.

Russia, which sides with the LNA, is said to have sent to Libya an undetermined number of “private military contractors” belonging to the Wagner Group, which is reputed to be close to the Kremlin.

The latest round of the UN-sponsored political dialogue forum is taking place virtually, after a first in-person session in the Tunisian capital last month.

The 75-member forum is part of a push to get Libya’s warring sides to agree on a mechanism that would establish a transitional administration to lead the country through presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021.

At the Tunis meeting, delegates agreed to hold elections on December 24, 2021, but not on who would lead the political transition.