The Tunisian authorities have decided to return Russian military equipment which was seized en route to the renegade Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, reported on Friday.

The goods were discovered when a Panamanian-registered ship called into the Tunisian port of Sfax for repairs.

Customs officers checked the 24 containers on board and found military equipment including 66 vehicles. Monitors estimated that there was enough to equip 300 troops.

According to security sources, the ship’s owner pledged to pay the cost of returning the equipment to Russia.

Officials on board the vessel denied that it was carrying military equipment. The containers, they explained, were sealed by the Russians and were heading for Cameroon.

Media in Libya have reported that Haftar is described by many Libyans as “Russia’s hand” in the country.

The ship’s original destination, they said, was Benghazi.

Haftar is backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Reports have claimed that he has asked Russia to build a military base in the country, but his spokesman denied this.


Meanwhile …

Libya government in Tripoli announces state of emergency

Libya’s UN-backed government has announced a state of emergency in the capital and its outskirts as ongoing fighting has killed some 39 people including civilians in the past days.

The fighting erupted last week between armed groups from Tripoli against others from a town to the south vying for power in Libya’s capital. The Health Ministry said the fighting has also wounded 96 others.

Sunday’s statement by the government urged rival militias to stop the fighting and abide a UN-brokered cease-fire.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Saturday called for an end to violence in Libya in accordance with a UN-brokered cease-fire agreement.

The Secretary-General condemns the continued escalation of violence in and around Libya’s capital and, in particular, the use by armed groups of indiscriminate shelling leading to the death and injury of civilians, including children,” a statement from Guterres’ office said.

The Secretary-General calls on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and abide by the cease-fire agreement brokered by the United Nations and the Reconciliation Committees.”

In a joint statement Britain, France, Italy and the United States have said they “warn those who tamper with security in Tripoli or elsewhere in Libya that they will be held accountable for any such actions.”

Meanwhile, two people were killed when a rocket hit a camp for displaced people in Libya’s capital on Sunday as fighting between rival armed groups continued to rage, an activist said.

On Saturday, rockets hit a hotel in central Tripoli and a fuel depot south of the capital, the focus of one week of heavy fighting between different armed groups.

The missile fell on the Al-Fallah camp for displaced Tawergha people, killing two and wounding seven, including two children, said Emad Ergeha, an activist following Tawergha issues.

The Tawergha were forced to leave their settlement near the western city of Misrata in the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 and have been prevented from going back since.
Ergeha, a Tawergha himself, also posted a video of fire fighters extinguishing a fire and showing severe damage to steel-made containers in the camp.

A rocket also hit the Waddan hotel in central Tripoli near the Italian embassy. Three people were wounded, staff said.

State oil firm NOC confirmed one of its diesel depots used to supply a power station had been hit by a rocket.

Fierce clashes erupted last week between the Seventh Brigade, or Kaniyat, from Tarhouna, a town 65 km (40 miles) southeast of Tripoli, against the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigades (TRB) and the Nawasi, two of the capital’s largest armed groups.

Although the government is formally in charge, it does not control the capital where armed groups are allied to it but operate with autonomy, often motivated by money and power.

This cames as some 400 detainees escaped after a riot on Sunday at a prison in the southern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli, theater of a week of deadly battles, the police said.

The detainees were able to force open the doors and leave” as fighting between rival militias raged near the prison of Ain Zara, the police said in a statement, without specifying what crimes the escapees had committed.

Guards were unable to prevent the prisoners escaping as they feared for their own lives, the statement said. A police official contacted by AFP was unable to provide further details.

Most detainees at the prison have been convicted of common crimes or were supporters of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, found guilty of killings during the uprising that toppled his regime.


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