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France admits it owned missiles found at Libyan militia base

  • July 10, 2019

In an admission to its alleged role in the Libyan conflict, French authorities confirmed a report in The New York Times on Wednesday that missiles found at a base used by strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces belonged to France.

According to a statement from the French Defense Ministry, the US-made Javelin missiles discovered in a camp south of Tripoli had been purchased by France. France, however, denied supplying them to Haftar in breach of a UN arms embargo, saying French forces operating in the North African country had lost them after the weapons became defective.

“Damaged and out-of-use, these weapons were being temporarily stocked in a warehouse ahead of their destruction,” the statement said. “They were not transferred to local forces.”

The Defense Ministry’s statement did not say how the French forces lost track of the missiles or how Haftar’s forces got hold of them.

The missiles, reportedly worth over $170,000 (€150,000) each, were seized when the military loyal to the UN-recognized government recently overran a pro-Haftar base in Gharyan south of Tripoli.

Read more: EU, France split on Libya as Khalifa Haftar strikes Tripoli

‘Unanswered questions’

The discovery of missiles could boost suspicions that France is supporting Haftar forces in Libya.

Claudia Gazzini, a senior Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group, told the AFP news agency that the French government needed to answer questions about whether French troops were present on the ground when the Haftar base was overrun.

“The French need to clarify in greater detail,” Gazzini said. “The open question is whether or not they are actively supporting Haftar forces in their offensive on Tripoli.”

Haftar launched an offensive to oust Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in April. The fighting has so far killed at least 1,000 people.

Read more: Death toll in Libya fighting continues to rise: UN

In a video distributed by pro-Sarraj forces, a Haftar commander alleges French and United Arab Emirates soldiers were at the Gharyan base when it was captured. France has dismissed the video as “fake news.”

French forces are known to be operating in war-torn Libya, although President Emmanuel Macron denied taking sides in the conflict.

“These weapons were for the protection of forces undertaking intelligence and counterterrorism measures,” the Defense Ministry statement said.

Libya plunges into chaos

Libya has been in turmoil since the ouster and killing of long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

Fighting in Tripoli has been fierce since the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, launched an offensive in April for control of Tripoli. In a stalemated conflict, Haftar’s forces are battling militias backed by Libya’s Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA).

On Friday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously called for both sides of the violent power struggle in Libya to de-escalate violence and return to the negotiating table.

The 15-member body also strongly condemned an airstrike that hit a migrant detention center in Tajoura outside the capital, Tripoli, last Tuesday, killing at least 53 people, including women and children.

Read more: Death toll in Libya fighting continues to rise: UN

  • Flash-Galerie Bildergalerie Gesichter des Jahres 2011 International Jahresrückblick (AP)

    Libya’s rocky path to democracy

    Ousted after decades

    For more than 40 years, Moammar Gadhafi was the eccentric strongman in power in Libya. He was known for his odd behavior – and for his regime’s ties to international terror groups. Libya was one of the countries swept up by the Arab Spring, and protests eventually turned into a civil war. Gadhafi fled but was eventually captured and killed In October, 2011.

  • Libyen Siegesfeier Victory Zeichen Hand Flagge (AP)

    Libya’s rocky path to democracy

    Chance for peace

    After Gadhafi fell, the eyes of the world were on Libya in the hope that the country would have a smooth transition to democracy. By July 2012, democratic parliamentary elections had taken place, but it proved to be a challenge for the country’s politicians to form a coalition and compromise on issues that would bring further stability.

  • Libyen Bengasi Anschlag auf US-Konsulat (Reuters)

    Libya’s rocky path to democracy

    Militias gaining strength

    Another problem facing Libya in the post-Gadhafi era was the rise of violent militias. While various armed groups did band together to topple the dictator, they did not have a common cause to rally around after his death. Instead, they fought each other. Terrorist groups were also on the rise in Libya, and staged a deadly attack on the US embassy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.

  • Libyen militärische Operation gegen Dschihadisten des IS in Sirte (picture alliance/Xinhua/H. Turkia)

    Libya’s rocky path to democracy

    Deeply divided

    Political divisions became deeper in the years following Gadhafi’s ouster. The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) is the internationally-recognized authority in Libya, but several factions on the ground are claiming a hold on power. Jihadist groups including the so-called ‘Islamic State’ have gained a significant foothold in the country, making any progress precarious.

  • Infografik Libyen Kontrolle Gebiete NEU! ENG

    Libya’s rocky path to democracy

    Shifting sands

    At present, the Tripoli-based GNA controls parts of western and central Libya while Haftar’s Libyan National Army holds much of the northeast. However, areas of power are constantly shifting due to ongoing “Islamic State” violence and the country’s many different smaller factions.

  • Italien Treffen Innenminister zum Thema Migration | Taha Siala, Libyen  Serraj, Libyen  Al-Aref Al-Khoja, Libyen (Reuters/R. Casilli)

    Libya’s rocky path to democracy

    Looking for help

    In recent weeks, Libya has reached out to NATO for assistance in strengthening the country’s security institutions in an effort to end the power struggle between competing governments and militias. Leaders of two of the biggest groups – the GNA and the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army LNA – called for an end to the political and economic crises in the country.

    Author: Matt Zuvela

shs/sms  (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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