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Libya's GNA says pro-Haftar mercenaries deployed in Jufra and Sirte despite ceasefire

A ceasefire deal reached earlier in August has been welcomed by civilian administrations, rejected by pro-Haftar militias
An 18 June 2020 file photo shows LNA special forces in Benghazi, reportedly to back up fellow LNA fighters on the front line west of Sirte (AFP)

The Libyan army announced on Sunday that foreign mercenaries loyal to eastern army commander Khalifa Haftar have been deployed in different locations in the strategic city of Sirte and al-Jufra district despite a ceasefire agreement between rival Libyan governments. 

According to the spokesman of the armed forces affiliated with Libya's internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), Colonel Mohamed Gununu, convoys carrying mercenaries from Africa, Russia, Syria and Yemen arrived on Saturday to three schools east of al-Jufra's capital Hun on board 112 armoured vehicles. 

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"Hundreds of Chadian and Janjaweed mercenaries gathered in a training camp in Zillah," Gununu said.

"Janjaweed" usually refers to a militia that has operated in western Sudan and eastern Chad.

"Haftar's terrorist militias set up checkpoints from the east of Sirte to al-Jufra, and from there to the south of Sebha," Gununu said.

Gununu said 70 armoured vehicles and ammunition trucks had arrived in Sirte in the past 24 hours for the pro-Haftar mercenaries there. 

"Instructions were issued by the Operations Command to all our ground and air units to be fully prepared and to keep their hands on the trigger to deal and respond to the sources of fire at the appropriate place and time," he said in a statement.

Ceasefire agreement

Libya's warring rival governments announced on 21 August that they would cease all hostilities and organise nationwide elections soon, an understanding swiftly welcomed by the United Nations.

According to the agreement, the "ceasefire requires the areas of Sirte and al-Jufra to be demilitarised within security arrangements".

While the ceasefire was welcomed internationally and by Haftar supporters, Haftar's forces rejected it as "media propaganda," insisting they would not withdraw from Sirte and al-Jufra peacefully.

The Libyan army on Thursday said militias loyal to Haftar violated the agreement.

"The terrorist al-Karama gangs and the Russian Wagner group affiliated with them attempted to target our valiant forces with more than 12 Grad missiles," the government said in a statement at the time.

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It said this was "a clear breach of the ceasefire agreement that was announced last Friday," stressing that "the operation of Sirte and Jufra will not hesitate to respond to these actions, as approved by the field operations."

Libya was plunged into chaos when a Nato-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. 

The country has since been split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. The two have been at war virtually since the formation of the Tripoli-based government of Fayez al-Sarraj in December 2015.

Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to try to capture Tripoli. 

However, his offensive collapsed in June when forces from the GNA, coupled with Turkish support, won a string of victories, driving Haftar's forces from the outskirts of the capital and other western towns.