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EU says withdrawal of foreign fighters a 'precondition' to Libya's stability

European Union council president vows support for new unity government and process of national reconciliation
Fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord GNA secure the area of Abu Qurain against forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar on 20 July 2020.
Fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord secure area of Abu Qurain against forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar on 20 July 2020 (AFP)

The European Union has pledged its support for Libya's new unity government and called for the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries, which it describes as a "precondition" for returning to stability.

"You have created an opportunity to rebuild your country, but there is one precondition - all foreign fighters and troops must leave the country," Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said during a news conference in Tripoli on Sunday.

He urged Libya's political factions to seize a "unique opportunity to build a united sovereign, stable and prosperous country".

Last month, an interim government was sworn in, which Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah will lead until elections slated for 24 December.

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Michel, who met the leaders of the newly appointed government, also said the EU was supporting efforts at national reconciliation, following years of conflict between rival sides in the country following the Nat0-backed ousting of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"The European Union actively supports the process of national reconciliation," he said after meeting with Dbeibah.

"Economic recovery, elections, the fight against illegal immigration... are areas in which the EU can help."

Last month, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy visited Tripoli in a show of support for the war-torn country's newly formed government.

France reopened its embassy in Libya last month, and next week Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is expected to visit Tripoli to reopen the country's embassy.

Michel said an EU ambassador would return to the Libyan capital in the coming weeks. Other European leaders would also be visiting Libya in the coming days, reflecting the importance of EU-Libyan ties, an EU official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Foreign fighters

Calls for foreign forces to withdraw from Libya have increased in recent months, including voices from Europe, the US and the UN.

UN report published last month accused several foreign governments of turning the oil-rich country into a stage to play out rivalries, ignoring international sanctions and a decade-long arms embargo.

The report said it found violations by Egypt, Russia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and the UAE, which the UN said were responsible for transferring drones and transport aircraft, mercenaries, surface-to-air missiles, artillery pieces and armoured vehicles to factions in Libya.

The UN previously estimated there to be around 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters in Libya in early December.

In January, the US called on Russia, Turkey, and the UAE to cease all military intervention in the country, saying that they must "respect Libyan sovereignty".

Late last month, Najla al-Mangoush, foreign minister in Libya's new unity government, repeated the appeal for an "immediate" withdrawal of foreign fighters from the country in a call backed by the visiting top diplomats of France, Germany, and Italy.