KUWAIT (Reuters) – Libya’s foreign minister said on Sunday that some foreign fighters have left the country as the unity government seeks to marshal international help to withdraw the many who remain.
“The reports are correct. There is a very modest start,” Najla Mangoush said at a news conference in Kuwait when asked whether some foreign fighters had been removed.
“We are still seeking a larger and comprehensive organisation for the exit of mercenaries,” she said.
Libya’s warring sides, backed by regional powers, remain entrenched with allied foreign mercenaries along front lines in defiance of a ceasefire agreement.
Any more significant withdrawal of foreign mercenaries has appeared far off amid arguments over the role of regional forces allied to each side and stumbles in efforts to agree ground-rules for a national election.
There has been little peace or security in Libya since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. The country split between warring eastern and western factions in 2014.
Eastern forces were backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt. The previous government in Tripoli, in the west, which was recognised by the United Nations, was supported by Turkey.
The warring sides brought in mercenaries, including via Russia’s Wagner group, from Syria, Sudan and Chad among other countries, the United Nations has said.
Last year, after commander Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) was pushed back from its 14-month assault on Tripoli, the two sides agreed on a truce and accepted the installation of a new unity government in Tripoli.
The ceasefire agreement called for all foreign mercenaries to be withdrawn within three months of its being signed a year ago.
The head of Libya’s presidency council said last month it would take part in a conference to ensure “unified, consistent” international support and restore a sense of Libyan leadership and ownership over the country’s future.
But Mohammed al-Menfi also warned of “serious challenges” that could undermine national elections planned for Dec. 24.
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; Writing by Nayera Abdallah and Angus McDowall; Editing by David Clarke and Andrew Heavens)