Russia supports withdrawal of foreign fighters from Libya

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Russia’s top diplomat moved to assure his Libyan counterpart on Thursday that Moscow supports the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from its borders.

After talks with Najla Mangoush, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow that the Libyan leadership was “forming a consultative mechanism… to formulate the concrete parameters” under which foreign forces will leave.

Libya has been wracked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, splitting the country between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities loyal to commander Khalifa Hifter in the east.

In April 2019, Hifter launched a military offensive to capture the capital, backed by Egypt, the UAE, Russia and France, while his rivals had the support of Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

The march on Tripoli ultimately failed in June 2020. Subsequent UN-sponsored peace talks brought about a ceasefire and installed an interim government expected to lead until general elections take place in December.

Last winter, the UN estimated there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese nationals and Chadians.

Last month, UN Special Envoy to Libya Jan Kubis said that factions starting the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from the country would be a major step for Libya. “We will be prepared to constructively take part in this work alongside other countries,” Lavrov said.

The Libyan foreign minister said her government considers the issue of withdrawing foreign fighters “important” and “a priority,” but stressed it should be done gradually and “in a synchronized manner.”

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“Working out implementation mechanisms is necessary,” Mangoush said. “Such decisions are aimed to avoid repeating [the] negative lessons of some of our neighbours, to avoid an ill-considered withdrawal of troops and to avoid sliding into chaos.”

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