Libya unity govt says Russian mercenaries evacuating

Libya unity govt says Russian mercenaries evacuating
Government forces parade a Pantsir air defense system truck in the capital Tripoli on May 20, 2020, after its capture from forces loyal to Libya’s eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar. (AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2020

Libya unity govt says Russian mercenaries evacuating

Libya unity govt says Russian mercenaries evacuating
  • Pro-GNA forces, with growing support from Turkey, have chalked up a series of victories in recent weeks largely thanks to their air superiority
  • At a UN Security Council videoconference earlier this month, Britain and the United States urged Russia to stop sending mercenaries to Libya

TRIPOLI: Forces backing Libya’s UN-recognized government said Monday that hundreds of Russian mercenaries fighting for rival military commander Khalifa Haftar had been evacuated from combat zones south of the capital Tripoli.
The claim comes after a series of setbacks for Haftar’s year-long offensive to seize the capital from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
“An Antonov 32 military cargo plane landed at Bani Walid airport to resume the evacuation of Wagner (Group) mercenaries who had fled southern Tripoli, to an as-yet unconfirmed destination,” pro-GNA forces wrote on Twitter.
There was no immediate response by Haftar’s forces to the GNA’s claims on Monday.
Several countries including Russia and Turkey have been accused of involvement in the battle between the GNA and Haftar’s forces.
Last month, in a report sent to the Security Council, United Nations experts corroborated US media reports that the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian paramilitary organization seen as close to President Vladimir Putin, had sent fighters to back Haftar.
The Kremlin has always denied involvement.
At a UN Security Council videoconference earlier this month, Britain and the United States urged Russia to stop sending mercenaries to Libya.
“Wagner Group activities continue to exacerbate the conflict and prolong the suffering of the Libyan people,” said British ambassador Jonathan Allen at that video meeting.
American ambassador Kelly Craft said that “all actors involved in the conflict in Libya must immediately suspend military operations.” Their Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzia, dismissed the claims as “speculation.”
Pro-GNA forces, with growing support from Turkey, have chalked up a series of victories in recent weeks largely thanks to their air superiority.
They said Saturday they had seized three barracks south of the capital, days after Haftar’s forces announced their fighters would pull back from some positions south of Tripoli.
Turkey has acknowledged sending fighters to support the GNA in Libya, but has not specified how many.
Pro-GNA forces said Monday some “1,500 to 1,600 mercenaries” had fled from the frontlines in Tripoli to Bani Walid, around 145 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of the capital.
They said the previous day seven cargo planes had landed at the town’s airport, bringing in munitions and weaponry and evacuating the fleeing fighters.
A video broadcast on the Tripoli-based Libya Al-Ahrar television channel showed armed men boarding an Antonov 23-type military cargo plane.
A Russian-made Pantsir air defense missile system could be seen in the background.
Haftar’s forces, who control much of eastern and southern Libya, have suffered a series of setbacks since April when GNA fighters ousted them from two strategic coastal cities.
Oil-rich Libya plunged into conflict after the ouster and killing of veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, with rival administrations and militias vying for power.
The conflict worsened when Haftar’s forces launched their offensive on Tripoli last April.
But despite early successes for Haftar, the battle for the capital — which has left hundreds dead, including dozens of civilians, and displaced more than 200,000 people — quickly stalled on its outskirts.
Intermittent fighting continues. Early on Monday, Libyans awoke to explosions and rocket fire, as they marked the second day of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Fitr.


Lebanon’s president expresses hope for Israel border talks

Updated 30 min 15 sec ago

Lebanon’s president expresses hope for Israel border talks

Lebanon’s president expresses hope for Israel border talks
  • President Michel Aoun was in Beirut for discussions with Lebanese leaders
  • The negotiations are the first non-security talks to be held between the two countries

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said Wednesday he wants maritime border talks with Israel to succeed and that disagreements during the last round of negotiations can be resolved based on international law.
President Michel Aoun spoke during a meeting with John Desrocher, the US mediator for the negotiations, who was in Beirut for discussions with Lebanese leaders.
The fourth round of talks, which was scheduled to take place Wednesday, was postponed until further notice, officials in the two countries said.
The negotiations are the first non-security talks to be held between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war following decades of conflict. Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides.
Israel and Lebanon each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. During the second round of the talks the Lebanese delegation — a mix of army officers and experts — offered a new map that pushes for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles).
Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview with Army Radio last week that “the Lebanese presented positions that are a provocation,” but he added that all negotiations start with “excessive demands and provocations.”
“I hope that in a few months we’ll be able to reach a breakthrough,” he added.
A statement released by Aoun’s office quoted him as telling Desrocher that Lebanon wants the talks to succeed because “this will strengthen stability in the south and allow us to invest in natural resources of oil and gas.”
He said difficulties that surfaced during the last round can be solved through discussions based on the Law of the Sea. Aoun said if the talks stall then “other alternatives can be put forward,” without elaborating.
The last round of talks were held in November and hosted by the United Nations in a border post between the two countries.
Israel has already developed offshore natural gas rigs, producing enough for domestic consumption and export abroad. Lebanon hopes that its own oil and gas discoveries will help alleviate its long-running economic troubles.