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'Wherever Wagner goes destruction happens': Libya's GNA slams Russian role in conflict

Tripoli-based government says Moscow is 'pouring fuel on the fire' by sending mercenaries to back Khalifa Haftar
A fighter loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord prepares to fire a rocket-propelled grenade (AFP)

Libya's UN-recognised government has accused Russia of fuelling the country's civil war by sending mercenaries to back eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), called on the US to help resolve the conflict, adding that the unrest was providing the local chapter of the Islamic State group (IS) an opportunity to regroup.

"The Russians have intervened to pour fuel on the fire and enhance the crisis rather than find a solution," Bashahga told Bloomberg on Saturday.

"The proof is their deployment of Wagner to Libya. They had sent it to Syria before, and central Africa, and wherever Wagner goes destruction happens," he added.

'The Russians have intervened to pour fuel on the fire and enhance the crisis rather than find a solution'

- Fathi Bashagha, GNA interior minister

The Wagner Group, a shadowy Kremlin-backed private military contractor, has been involved in the Syrian conflict, where Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad against rebels. 

The military contractor is also believed to be active in Sudan and the Central African Republic, where it reportedly serves as President Faustin-Archange Touadera's personal security detail

Moscow has denied sending mercenaries to Libya, claiming it was "acting in the interest of [a] Libyan settlement".

"We support the appropriate efforts [to end the conflict], including through the UN," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier this week. "We're in dialogue with those who in one way or another influence the situation." 

Violating arms embargo

Bashagha accused Russia of trying to restore remnants of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, which was ousted in a Nato-backed uprising in 2011.

Haftar, a former CIA asset who served under Gaddafi, launched a military operation in early April to seize control of the capital Tripoli, but, so far, his forces have been unable to penetrate the city.

The 76-year-old, who is believed to be backed by France, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, has blamed the GNA and Tripoli-based institutions for the unrest and of being at the mercy of rival militias. 

The clashes have killed about 1,100 people and wounded around 6,000. According to UN agencies, more than 120,000 people have been displaced.

Militias and mercenaries: Haftar's army in Libya
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"The US has an obligation, moral and legal, toward Libya," Bashagha said. 

"The US was a strong partner in bringing down the old regime. It should cooperate with us Libyans to restore stability and security."

Rights groups have accused Haftar's forces of failing to distinguish between civilian and military sites during his assault on the capital, with raids targeting schools as well as hospitals.

In June, his forces were blamed for an attack on a detention centre that killed at least 44 migrants and refugees.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which backs his Haftar, has in the past supplied the leader with military equipment, in violation of an international arms embargo on the North African country.

Middle East Eye obtained a draft copy of a UN report on Saturday, which revealed that the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Sudan had all violated an arms embargo imposed on Libya.

Turkey was also accused of violating international law after it sent weapons and military equipment to the beleaguered GNA.