Russia supports withdrawal of foreign fighters from Libya

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s top diplomat assured his Libyan counterpart Thursday that Moscow supports the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from the North African country and is prepared to help work out the details with other countries.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the talks in Moscow with Najla Mangoush that the Libyan leadership “is forming a consultative mechanism … to formulate the concrete parameters” under which the foreign forces will leave.

Russia was among the foreign powers backing the warring sides in Libya’s conflict, with some officials and media reports alleging that Russian private military contractors took part in the fighting.

“We will be prepared to constructively take part in this work alongside other countries,” Lavrov told a press conference.

The Libyan foreign minister said her government considers the issue of withdrawing foreign fighters “important” and “a priority,” but stressed that it should be done gradually and “in a synchronized manner.”

“That’s why working out implementation mechanisms is necessary,” Mangoush said. “Such decisions are aimed to avoid repeating (the) negative lessons of some of our neighbors, to avoid an ill-considered withdrawal of troops and to avoid sliding into chaos, so that the national security of Libya doesn’t suffer in the end.”

Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and split the country between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities loyal to commander Khalifa Hifter in the east. Each were backed by different armed groups and foreign governments.

In April 2019, Hifter launched a military offensive to capture the capital. His campaign was backed by Egypt, the UAE, Russia and France, while his rivals had the support of Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

Hifter’s march on Tripoli ultimately failed in June 2020. Subsequent U.N.-sponsored peace talks brought about a cease-fire and installed an interim government that’s expected to lead the country into general elections in December.

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.

Last month, U.N. Special Envoy to Libya Jan Kubis said that factions starting the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from the country would be a major step for Libya.

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