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Libyan warplane makes surprise landing in Tunisia

Both technical difficulties and defection from Khalifa Haftar's LNA have been mooted as reasons for the L39 jet's touchdown on a Tunisian road
Libyan warplane's emergency landing in Tunisia raised speculations of defection in the ranks of feuding air forces next door (Twitter)

A Libyan warplane touched down on a road in eastern Tunisia's Beni Khadash on Monday, with its pilot subsequently apprehended by Tunisian authorities.

The Tunisian defence ministry was quoted by state news agency TAP as saying the pilot, who holds the rank of colonel, said he landed in Tunisia due to technical difficulties.

Photos circulating on social media showed a warplane by the side of a narrow, paved road, in a dusty and deserted area, with onlookers observing. 

The L39 fighter jet breached Tunisian airspace at 7:30 am, and landed in the region of Medenine before the military intercepted it, TAP reported.

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Middle East Eye understands that the jet was travelling between the Brak al-Shati and al-Watiya air bases, and belongs to the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), a force led by eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar.

However, the aircraft touched down more than 150km away from its intended destination, leading to specualtion that the pilot may have been defecting.

'According to an LNA source, the crew member had a navigation problem. But it could also be a defection'

- Arnaud Delaland, analyst

The LNA is currently embroiled in an offensive against the United Nations-backed government in the capital Tripoli.

"According to an LNA source, the crew member had a navigation problem. But it could also be a defection," analyst Arnaud Delalande told MEE.

Delalande noted that the LNA has been carrying out an intensive air campaign over Tripoli, but only 30 percent of its fleet was operational, which likely led to it attempting to transfer the L39 to an air base closer to the Libyan capital.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord has said the warplane is not part of its fleet, the Reuters news agency reported. The LNA has yet to comment.

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