The U.N. Security Council held an informal meeting Thursday focusing on the repatriation of more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, a demand of the country’s transitional government as it heads toward December elections after a decade of fighting and upheaval.
Vietnam’s U.N. Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy, the current council president, told several reporters that members stressed the importance of implementing last October’s cease-fire agreement which included the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries within three months. That didn’t happen.
Dang said when a pullout will take place is “a very difficult question” because it depends on many, many factors, first and foremost “the political determination” of U.N. member nations involved in the Libyan conflict.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and split the oil-rich North African country between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, east-based commander Khalifa Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the U.N.-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
The U.N. estimated in December that there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. But council diplomats said speakers Thursday said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese.
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the informal meeting was closed, said all 15 council nations agreed that getting the foreign fighters and mercenaries to go home was the only way forward. But some council members pointed out that other council members in the room were behind some of those foreign fighters or mercenaries, they said.
The United States and United Kingdom singled out mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-backed private security company that has been implicated by U.N. experts monitoring sanctions against Libya for fighting on the side of Hifter’s eastern-backed forces, the diplomats said. Russia has repeatedly denied playing any role on Libya’s battlefields.
Diplomats said Russia responded on Thursday saying it had voted for the Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on April 16 that authorized up to 60 U.N. monitors to help implement the cease-fire agreement. It called for full implementation of last October’s cease-fire agreement, “including through the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya without delay.”
Thursday’s informal council meeting was called by its three African members — Niger, Tunisia and Kenya — and heard from the new U.N. special envoy, Jan Kubis, on the way to get the foreign fighters and mercenaries out of Libya and enforce the decade-long arms embargo against the country, the diplomats said. A recently released report by U.N. experts said the embargo has been “totally ineffective.”
The meeting took place following last week’s killing of Chad’s President Idriss Deby by rebels, believed to have been armed and trained in Libya, a neighbor.
Diplomats said council members on Thursday linked the mercenaries and foreign fighters in Libya with what happened in Chad, and stressed the importance of getting the foreigners out.
One diplomat also warned that what happened in Chad could be repeated in the Sahel and extend to the Horn of Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, Niger, Ethiopia, Central African Republic and Mozambique if effective action isn’t taken.
The council was also briefed by the U.N. political mission in Libya’s coordinator, Assistant Secretary-General Raisedon Zenenga, who talked about the process of getting Libya’s disparate security and military forces across the country in one place and starting a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, another diplomat said, stressing that this is just as important as getting foreign fighters and mercenaries out of the country.
Turkey ready to hold tripartite meeting on Libya
As Ankara and Cairo concluded a second day of talks on Thursday, Turkey said it is ready to hold tripartite meetings with Egypt and Libya to agree on disputed issues, including the presence of foreign mercenaries, Egyptian intelligence sources said.
In a joint statement, Egypt and Turkey said they held “frank” talks on the conflict in Libya where they back competing factions, and on Syria and the security situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, in a push to rebuild their fractured relations.
Egypt and Turkey have backed competing factions in Libya where Turkish troops have supported the Tripoli-based government in repelling an attack from eastern forces backed by Egypt and Russia.
“The discussions were frank and in-depth. They addressed bilateral issues as well as a number of regional issues, in particular the situation in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and the need to achieve peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean region,” the statement said.
“The two sides will evaluate the outcome of this round of consultations and agree on the next steps.”
Relations between the two regional powers have been strained since the Egyptian army, led by then military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, toppled democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, had been a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey said on Thursday it agrees that all foreign fighters in Libya need to leave the country, but Ankara has a bilateral agreement with the Libyan government for its troops to be stationed there.
The Turkish delegation also told Egyptians that Ankara could not hand over Muslim Brotherhood leaders wanted by Egypt, adding that most of those leaders are now legally residing in Turkey, the Egyptian sources said.
The talks in Cairo, led by deputy foreign ministers, were the latest in a series of rapprochement moves by both countries to improve strained ties.
Turkish officials did not comment on the content of the talks. However, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said Ankara is ready to improve its ties with every country in the region, not just Egypt. Egypt has so far responded cautiously to Turkish overtures.