US envoy blames Russian mercenaries for Libyan deaths
The US ambassador to Libya says growing Russian support for rebel Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s offensive to seize Tripoli is increasing instability in the failed state.
Around 1,000 Russian mercenaries have been deployed in Libya since September, according to western estimates. Moscow denies that mercenaries from Russia are fighting with Haftar.
Haftar’s forces work with mercenaries from the Wagner group that is run by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last week the rebel commander announced the start of a final battle to seize Tripoli after around eight months of skirmishes around the capital’s outskirts.
“We are watching with great concern the escalation that is taking place in Libya and the region from this conflict,” said US ambassador Richard Norland. Russian meddling had created “a very significant impact in terms of civilian casualties”, he added.
The United Arab Emirates has already backed Haftar’s Tobruk-based administration in the civil war.
A US army drone was shot down last month over Libya by a surface-to-air missile believed to have been operated by Russian mercenaries or Haftar’s forces.
Libya is also getting drawn into the protracted dispute in the eastern Mediterranean over natural gas reserves around Cyprus.
Turkey has been assisting the UN-recognised government.
In November Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) signed an agreement on maritime boundaries in the region that ignored Cyprus.
The memorandum of understanding looks to protect Tripoli and Ankara against any “illegal” encroachments by other nations.
Turkey’s populist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was “ready to provide all kinds of support to Libya” and he met GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj in Istanbul at the weekend.
Turkey’s Libyan deal extends its supposed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to border that of Libya, cutting off Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and Palestine from Greece and Italy.
Erdogan’s ambitious EEZ might threaten planned gas pipelines, linking the eastern Mediterranean with the lucrative European market.
Egypt has objected to the agreement and Greece expelled its Libyan ambassador, saying the deal implies that Turkey has rights over the waters around Crete.
“This agreement was compiled in bad faith,” said Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas. “The sea zones of Turkey and Libya do not meet, and nor is there a sea border between the two states.”
Oil-rich Libya is increasingly vulnerable to international meddling. Picture credit: YouTube