US calls for withdrawal of Russian, Turkish forces from Libya

Fighters fire salutatory rounds in the air during a funeral for a commander of the Special Forces of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, in the eastern city of Benghazi on November 1, 2020
Fighters fire salutatory rounds in the air during a funeral for a commander of the Special Forces of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, in the eastern city of Benghazi on November 1, 2020 Abdullah DOMA AFP
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United Nations (United States) (AFP)

The United States on Thursday called for the immediate withdrawal of Russian and Turkish forces from Libya, after a deadline for them to leave was ignored.

This appeal marked a firmer expression of US policy toward oil-rich Libya under the new administration of President Joe Biden.

"We call on all external parties, to include Russia, Turkey and the UAE, to respect Libyan sovereignty and immediately cease all military intervention in Libya," the acting US ambassador Richard Mills said during a UN Security Council meeting on Libya, which has seen a decade of fighting since the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi.

Under a UN-backed ceasefire signed October 23, foreign troops and mercenaries were to pull out of Libya within three months. That deadline passed on Saturday with no movement announced or observed on the ground.

"Per the October ceasefire agreement we call on Turkey and Russia to immediately initiate the withdrawal of their forces from the country and the removal of the foreign mercenaries and military proxies that they have recruited, financed, deployed and supported in Libya," said Mills.

The UN estimates there are some 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries in Libya helping the warring factions: the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli and military strongman Khalifa Haftar in the east.

The GNA has received military support from Turkey. Haftar has the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as well as Russia.

The statement by Mills signaled a clearer tone in US policy under Biden. While in power, his predecessor Donald Trump at one point seemed to back Haftar, although the official US policy at the end of his administration was that all foreign fighters should leave in line with the UN-backed agreement.

Russia firmly denies any role in the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya.

At Thursday's council meeting, most members also called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya and respect for an arms embargo in force since 2011.

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia in his remarks to the council made no mention of the presence of foreign fighters.

He said Russia has always backed a peaceful solution in Libya through political and diplomatic channels.

The UN says the arms embargo is being violated as cargo planes arrive with weapons for the two warring sides.

UN-sponsored talks among the two sides in Libya are expected to resume in the near future in Geneva. Libya is scheduled to hold elections in December.