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Libyan PM rules out foreign military intervention

Leader of UN-backed unity government says foreign boots on ground to assist in fight against IS would be 'contrary to our principles'
Members of the Libyan pro-government forces patrols a rural area near Benghazi in April (AFP)

The prime minister of Libya's UN-backed unity government has ruled out an international military intervention to fight the Islamic State group, which has had a growing presence in the country since 2014.

Last month, 25 countries including the US and Russia agreed to help Libya arm itself against the militant group, but Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj told French newspaper Journal du Dimanche that he will not allow foreign troops on the ground.

"It's true that we need help from the international community in our fight against terrorism and it's true that this is something we have already received," he said in the interview, published on Sunday.

"But we are not talking about international intervention," Sarraj said, adding that the presence of foreign ground troops would be "contrary to our principles".

"Rather we need satellite images, intelligence, technical help ... not bombardments," he said.

Sarraj's comments come after reports of British, American, Italian and French special force operations in the North African country in recent months.

Western politicians have held for months that their troops would need to be invited by the unity government if there were to be a foreign intervention and the prime minister's comments, two months into the establishment of the Government of National Accord (GNA), would seem to suggest that invitation will not be forthcoming.

In its battle to unify a violence-ridden Libya and exert its control over the entire country, the GNA faces opposition from a competing authority based in the east which has its own armed forces - militias and some units of the national army - commanded by controversial General Khalifa Haftar.

Both bodies are engaged in a race to be the first to drive the Islamic State group out of the coastal city of Sirte, a bastion for militants in the country.

On Saturday, forces loyal to the GNA said they had retaken a militant air base near the city.

Sarraj told Journal du Dimanche that "total victory over IS in Sirte is close".

"[We hope] that this war against terrorism will be able to unite Libya. But it will be long. And the international community knows that," he said.