The “liberation” of Sirte and YouFra from Khalifa Haftar’s forces has become “more urgent than ever” for the Libyan National Accord (GNA) government after the deployment of mercenaries in the country, the government army spokesman said. recognized by the United Nations.
In a statement on Saturday, Muhammad Qanunu said “Sirte was the most dangerous place in Libya after becoming a focal point for mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Company,” whom he described as “criminal gangs.”
On Saturday, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN called for the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions for the activities of mercenaries and other actors in Libya.
Arab League calls for ceasefire in Libya, peace talks
Qanunu blamed Libyan parties “that have supported the rebels” for the presence of Russian, Syrian and African mercenaries and their control of the oil fields in Libya.
He added that responsibility for the situation in Libya also fell on the “Arab and foreign countries that contributed to bringing them [mercenaries] first”.
On Saturday, Libya’s GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj met with his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte in Rome to discuss the situation in the country and the return of Italian companies to work in Libya.
The two officials also reiterated the need for a resumption of the political process, rather than a military one, in line with the decisions of the UN Security Council and the Berlin Conference.
Libya, a major oil producer, has been in chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2014, it has been divided between rival factions based in the capital Tripoli and in the east, in a sometimes chaotic war that has attracted outside powers and an avalanche of weapons and foreign mercenaries.
East-based forces under Haftar launched an offensive in April last year to try to capture Tripoli from the GNA, which is supported by Turkey.
Haftar’s forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, were forced to withdraw from much of western Libya in recent weeks after Turkey stepped up its support for the UN-recognized GNA.
Encouraged by their recent victories on the battlefield, GNA-aligned forces said they would halt their advance after recapturing Sirte, a city of some 125,000 people on the Mediterranean coast and the Jufra airbase.
However, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned last week that any attack on Sirte or Youfra would amount to crossing a “red line.”
He said Egypt could intervene militarily to protect its western border with the oil-rich country.
In response, the GNA said it viewed el-Sisi’s comments as a “declaration of war.”
Could Egypt and Turkey go to war in Libya? The | Inner history
Al Jazeera and news agencies