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Huge trench dug by Russia's Wagner Group may derail Libya peace process: Report

Russian mercenary group accused of digging fortified trenches near Sirte, raising fears that foreign fighters will not withdraw ahead of Saturday deadline
Libya entered 2020 in the midst of a full-blown war between the rival GNA and Haftar's National Libyan Army.
Libya entered 2020 in midst of full-blown war between rival GNA and Haftar's National Libyan Army (AFP/File photo)

Russia-backed Wagner Group mercenaries are digging an enormous trench in war-torn Libya, potentially threatening to derail a UN-brokered peace deal, CNN reported.

CNN published satellite images on Friday that showed the construction of a long trench extending from the city of Sirte to al-Jufra, a stronghold of Wagner mercenaries.

The trench was seemingly being dug to repel an attack by the UN-recognised government against fighters loyal to Khalifa Haftar.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) posted images of trucks creating the trench, saying the work was being done as recently as this month.

CNN reported that more than 30 defensive positions had been dug into the desert and hillsides that stretch for about 70km (43 miles) between the two areas.

The construction has raised fears that foreign fighters will not be leaving the country any time soon, as mandated by the UN peace deal.

"I don't think anyone digging a trench today and making these reinforcements is leaving anytime soon," GNA Defence Minister Salaheddin al-Namroush told CNN. 

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Libya has been wracked by violence since 2011, when a Nato-backed uprising overthrew longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. 

Since disputed elections in 2014, the country has been divided between competing administrations, with the GNA supported by Turkey, while the UAE and Egypt have backed forces loyal to Haftar. 

Haftar, who controls much of the country's east, including lucrative oil fields, failed in his bid to wrest control of Tripoli last year, ultimately leading to a stalemate with the GNA.

After agreeing to a ceasefire in August 2020, the two warring sides signed a peace deal in October that would see the departure of all foreign fighters from Libya by 23 January - except for the UN's forces.

An unidentified US intelligence official told CNN that there was "no intent or movement by either Turkish or Russian forces to abide by the UN-brokered agreement".

"This has the potential to derail an already fragile peace process and ceasefire. It will be a really difficult year ahead."

Washington has for months accused the Wagner Group of providing support to Haftar in violation of a UN arms embargo on the country.

A September 2020 report from US Africa Command said that there were about 10,000 foreign fighters in Libya on both sides, including 3,000 from the Wagner Group. Moscow rejected the report.

UN inspectors have also recorded dozens of Russian flights into Libya throughout much of last year.