A UN official has estimated there have been at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya over recent years, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese, and Chadians.
The rival sides in the Libyan conflict signed an initial deal on the pullout of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the war-torn country, UN mediators said.
The UN mission said on October 9 that a 10-member joint military commission, with five representatives from each side, signed a “gradual and balanced” withdrawal deal at the end of three-day talks facilitated by the UN in Geneva.
The UN special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, said the deal “responds to the overwhelming demand of the Libyan people and creates a positive momentum that should be built upon to move forward towards a stable and democratic stage.”
Libya has been in chaos and conflict since a NATO-backed uprising a decade ago ousted longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, sparking rival eastern and western-based administrations, each supported by various outsiders and armed groups.
The country had been split between the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, also backed by Turkey and Qatar, and an eastern-based administration backed by strongman Khalifa Haftar, whose international backers are Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
Libya’s split came to the forefront in 2019, when Haftar launched an offensive to take Tripoli from armed militias loosely allied with the UN-supported but weak government in the country’s capital.
The presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries has been a major issue seen as an obstacle to free and fair elections, scheduled for December in the North African country.
In August, a journalistic investigation brought new insights into the “key” role of a Russian military contractor in the Libyan civil war, including links to war crimes and the Russian military.
The content of a Samsung tablet left behind by an unidentified member of the Vagner Group after the contractor’s fighters retreated from areas south of Tripoli in spring 2020 include frontline maps in Russian, the BBC said on August 11.
Vagner Group is believed to have indirect ties to Russia’s political elite and to be controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Both Prigozhin and Russian authorities have denied any involvement with Vagner.
Meanwhile, Turkey has sent Syrian rebel fighters to back the internationally recognized Tripoli government.
A UN official in December estimated there have been at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya over recent years, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese, and Chadians.
The UN said the newly agreed plan, along with an implementation mechanism, would be "the cornerstone for the gradual, balanced, and sequenced process of withdrawal" of the mercenaries and foreign forces.
Kubis, the UN special envoy, called the accord "another breakthrough achievement."
He said the deal is a step toward the "holding of free, credible, and transparent national elections on December 24, with results accepted by all."
The accord also calls for deployment of UN observers to monitor the cease-fire before the implementation of a withdrawal plan for foreign combatants.
A UN-brokered roadmap has set both parliamentary and presidential elections for December 24, although it remains unclear if opposition from eastern-based forces will interfere with those plans.
With reporting by AP and Anadolu Agency