The European Union on Sunday called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, describing it as a precondition for a return to stability in the war-torn country.
At a press conference in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, EU Council President Charles Michel described the appointment of a caretaker government earlier this year as a historic moment. The government intends to graze the country through general elections on December 24th.
“I wanted to come as soon as possible to convey a clear and strong message to the Libyan people and their new leadership,” he said. “We appreciate your efforts to unite in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation.”
You have created an opportunity to rebuild your country, but there is a precondition that all fighters and foreign troops must leave the country, he said, urging Libya’s political and largely armed factions to seize a unique opportunity to build a stable and prosperous sovereign united country.
Michel, who met with leaders of the newly appointed government, said the EU was supporting national reconciliation efforts after years of chaos since the 2011 uprising that overthrew and later assassinated former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of the presidential council, said he and Michel discussed migration and the security of the maritime borders between Libya and the EU, according to the Libyan leader’s office. Libya has emerged as a dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and seeking a better life in Europe.
Other European leaders will visit Libya in the coming days, reflecting the importance of EU-Libyan ties, an EU official said, adding that the EU ambassador to Libya would return to Tripoli in late April. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to report to the media.
The United Nations estimates that there are about 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries in Libya assisting warring factions: the well-known UN Government for National Accord (GNA) government in Tripoli and Putchist General Khalifa Haftar in the east.
The Haftar warlord has the backing of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia, particularly mercenaries from a private group linked to Vladimir Putin. GNA is supported by Turkey.
Mercenaries and foreign weapons have been poured into the country since Haftar launched its offensive, with Russia and the UAE serving as the coup general’s main suppliers.
The Russian Wagner group, which is owned by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a figure close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is known as one of the main groups that sent mercenaries to fight in Libya.
Most of the foreign forces are concentrated around Sirte at the Jufra air base held by Haftar forces 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Tripoli and further west in Al-Watiya.
In June, the United States African Command (AFRICOM) discovered that 2,000 Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group had acted alongside Haftar forces.
A UN report on Sudan released in January 2020 also said many Arabs from the war-torn Darfur region were fighting as “individual mercenaries” alongside Libyan warring parties.
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