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300 foreign mercenaries leave Libya at France's request

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) and Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Mohammed Dbeiba attend the second international Libya conference on June 23, 2021 in Berlin, Germany [Sean Gallup/Getty Images]
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) and Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Mohammed Dbeiba attend the second international Libya conference on June 23, 2021 in Berlin, Germany [Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

The French Foreign Ministry yesterday confirmed that around 300 foreign mercenaries have withdrawn from eastern Libya.

It follows an announcement by Libya's General Khalifa Haftar's east-based forces last November at the International Conference for Libya held in Paris that foreign mercenaries would leave the country at the request of France.

This commitment came one month after military representatives from the government and opposition forces, known as the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission (JMC), signed a comprehensive Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign forces from Libya.

France's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Anne-Claire Legendre, said the withdrawal constituted a "positive first signal after the November 12 conference".

She added that the withdrawal must "now be followed up with the implementation as quickly as possible of a complete process for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces."

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Legendre did not specify where the mercenaries were from, however Reuters reported that diplomats have indicated they originated from neighbouring Chad.

Remaining mercenaries in Libya include personnel from Russia's private security firm, Wagner, who are currently active alongside the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA). Last December, Chairman of the High Council of State, Khalid Al-Mishri, said that he believed more than 7,000 Russian Wagner mercenaries were currently deployed in Libya.

Speaking at the Libya Political Dialogue Forum in 2020, the acting UN envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, warned that at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries were causing a "serious crises" in the country.

The initial withdrawal will come as a welcome sign of progress amid on-going uncertainty surrounding a general election that was due to be held on 24 December. The postponement of the elections amid on-going disputes has elevated concern that a ceasefire agreed last year between Libya's warring factions could be thrown into further jeopardy.

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