Libyan and U.S. Officials Discover Russian Fighters Are Been Deployed Through Private Security Contractor

FILE – In this Aug. 14, 2017 file photo, Libyan militia commander General Khalifa Hifter, top center, listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, bottom center, during their meeting in Moscow, Russia. Officials in Libya’s U.N.-backed administration say they plan to present evidence to Moscow of Russian mercenaries fighting alongside their adversary in their country’s war. Libyan officials say up to 800 fighters from the Russian private security contractor Wagner Group have joined the forces of Hifter, the commander of forces battling for months trying to capture Libya’s capital, Tripoli. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

Officials in Libya’s U.N.-supported government say they plan to confront Moscow over the alleged deployment of Russian mercenaries fighting alongside their opponents in the country’s civil war.

Libyan and U.S. officials accuse Russia of deploying fighters through a private security contractor, the Wagner Group, to key battleground areas in Libya in the past months.

They say the Russian fighters are backing commander Khalifa Hifter, whose forces have been trying for months to capture the capital Tripoli. The U.N.-supported Government of National Accord is based in Tripoli.

“We are going to visit Russia after we collect all evidence and present to the authorities and see what they say,” al-Meshri told The Associated Press last week. He did not say when that visit would take place.

Moscow has repeatedly denied playing any role in Libya’s fighting.

Hifter’s self-styled Libyan National Army — made up of army units, ultraconservative Salafists, and tribesmen — launched its offensive on Tripoli in April after seizing much of eastern Libya from Islamic militants and other rivals in recent years. Hifter is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The country is now split between a government in the east, allied with Hifter, and the GNA in Tripoli in the west. Both sides are bolstered by militias. Fighting has stalled in recent weeks, with both sides dug in and shelling one another along Tripoli’s southern reaches.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker told reporters last week that the State Department is working with European partners to impose sanctions on the Russian military contractor responsible for sending fighters to Tripoli.

“The way that this organization of Russians in particular has operated before raises the specter of large-scale casualties in civilian populations,” he said.

Schenker’s comments came shortly after U.S. officials met with Hifter to press for a cease-fire and “expressed serious concern” over Russia’s intervention in the conflict.

Source: Associated Press – MAGGIE MICHAEL