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UN finds likely use of armed drone in Libya by Haftar or 'third party'

Confidential document notes that suspected BA-7 missile is only in use in the UAE, China and Kazakhstan
Since 2014, the UAE and Egypt have provided the LNA with military equipment such as aircraft and helicopters (AFP/File photo)

United Nations sanctions monitors are investigating the likely use of an armed drone by eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces, or a supporting "third party", in an attack last month on troops affiliated with Libya's internationally recognised government, according to a confidential report to the UN Security Council.

The report, seen by the Reuters news agency on Wednesday, found that a Blue Arrow air to surface missile (BA-7) was likely used in the attack near Libya's capital Tripoli on 20 April, and that such a weapon is designed to be fired by a Wing Loong drone.

The document notes that the BA-7 missile is only in use in the United Arab Emirates, China and Kazakhstan, but adds that some countries operating Wing Loong drones could also be using the missiles. 

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It said they were in use by the UAE, China, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia and Uzbekistan.

The latest flare-up of violence in Libya - which has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 - began a month ago, when eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar's LNA advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli.

Since 2014, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have provided the LNA with military equipment such as aircraft and helicopters, helping Haftar to gain the upper hand in Libya's eight-year conflict, past UN reports have established.

The UAE created a drone facility at al-Khadim air base, south of the Libyan capital, in 2016, and experts say the ageing fighter jets available to Haftar cannot fly by night, making it highly likely that drones were used.

The UAE and Egyptian missions to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

'Violation of the arms embargo'

The UN monitors also said video showed other air attacks on Tripoli were "almost certainly from air to surface missiles".

"The panel is now investigating the probable use of Wing Loong UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) variants by the LNA or by a third party in support of the LNA," the sanctions monitors wrote in the brief 2 May. 

"It's introduction to Libya is... a violation of the arms embargo by an as yet unconfirmed party."

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While the BA-7 missile and Wing Loong drones are produced by China, the report notes that it is "almost certain" that the weapon was not directly supplied by the "manufacturer or by the member state to any parties in Libya."

"It is highly likely present due to post-delivery diversion by the original purchaser or the subsequent owner," it found.

Haftar's troops advancing Tripoli predicted victory within days, but the forces of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj's government have bogged them down in southern suburbs with help from armed groups from western Libyan factions.

More than 440 people have been killed and tens of thousands of civilians displaced, according to the UN.

France calls for ceasefire

France's President Emmanuel Macron called on Wednesday for a ceasefire in the battle for Tripoli after fighting hit a migrant detention centre overnight.

The president made the remarks following a meeting with Serraj in Paris. 

France has in the past been supportive of Haftar, and Serraj last month accused Macron of backing the eastern commander.

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"Noting that there is no military solution to the Libyan conflict... the proposal was put forward to delimit a ceasefire line, under international supervision," Macron's office said in a statement afterwards, backing a UN peace plan and elections.

Overnight, there was shelling on a camp of pro-Serraj fighters, witnesses said. Shrapnel struck the roof of a nearby migrants' detention centre in the eastern suburb of Tajoura.

Two people were injured by the strike near the detention facility holding 500 migrants and refugees, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement. 

It appealed for the release of 3,460 foreign detainees caught near the fighting.

Suspected Islamic State fighters attack southern town

Elsewhere in Libya, three people were killed on Thursday in a suspected hit-and-run attack by Islamic State group (IS) fighters on a town in the south, residents and a military official said, the second such attack within days.

Gunmen stormed the town of Ghadwa and opened fire before retreating back into the desert, residents said.

The attack came after nine soldiers were killed on Saturday in an attack claimed by IS on a training camp belonging to Haftar's forces.

The Islamic State group is active in the south to where it retreated after losing its stronghold in the central city of Sirte in December 2016.

Separately, two boats carrying 214 migrants were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard late on Wednesday and taken back to the shore, the UN migration agency said.

The western Libyan coast is a major departure point for mainly African migrants fleeing conflict and poverty and trying to reach Italy across the Mediterranean Sea with the help of human traffickers.