Libya demands answers after French missiles found at pro-Haftar base
Libya's internationally recognised government on Thursday demanded urgent answers after Paris conceded French missiles were found at a base used by strongman Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are fighting to take over the capital Tripoli.
Foreign Minister Mohamad Tahar Siala has asked French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to "urgently explain" how the missiles "reached Haftar's forces, when they were delivered and how", according to a ministry statement.
Haftar in April ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army on an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord.
The battle is the latest turmoil to rock the North African country, which has been caught up in fighting between rival forces since the fall of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Siala also demanded to know "the quantities of weapons, whose existence (in Libya) contradicts the French government declarations... of support" to Tripoli's national unity government.
France's defence ministry, confirming a report in the New York Times, on Wednesday said the US-made Javelin missiles discovered in June at a camp south of Tripoli had been purchased by France.
But it denied supplying them to Haftar in breach of a UN arms embargo, saying French forces operating in the war-torn country had lost track of them after they were judged to be defective.
France’s ambiguous Libya stance
The anti-tank missiles, worth $170,000 (150,000 euros) each, were seized when forces loyal to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli overran the pro-Haftar base in Gharyan, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Tripoli.
Three of them were shown to journalists, including AFP reporters, on June 29 alongside Chinese-made shells bearing the markings of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The French ministry statement did not explain how the missiles were lost and the find is likely to boost suspicions that Paris is backing Haftar on the ground.
France has publicly expressed support for the UN-backed government in Tripoli, while also regarding Haftar’s forces as helpful in the fight against Islamist militants.
“France has long supported all established forces engaged in the fight against terrorism, in Libya, in the Tripoli area and in Cyrenaica [the east of the country], as well as more broadly in the Sahel,” the French defence ministry said in its statement on Wednesday.
More than 1,000 people have died in the fighting since Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli, including scores killed in an air strike that hit a detention centre for migrants.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)