Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has up to 1 200 people deployed in Libya, strengthening the forces of eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar, according to a confidential UN report seen by Reuters.
The 57-page report by independent sanctions monitors, submitted to the UN Security Council Libya sanctions committee, said the Russian contractor deployed forces foe specialised military tasks including sniper teams.
Haftar launched a war a year ago to grab Tripoli and parts of north-west Libya. Since 2014, Libya has been split between areas controlled by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli and north-west and territory held by Haftar’s eastern-based forces in Benghazi.
Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while government is backed by Turkey. The UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in 2011 amid an uprising that ousted long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
The sanctions monitors said they could not independently verify the scale of the deployment to Libya by Wagner Group, “based on open source reporting and limited sightings assesses the maximum individual private military operatives deployed to be no more than 800 to 1 200.”
“Their deployment is an effective force multiplier for Haftar,” the sanctions monitors wrote.
Asked in January if the Wagner Group were fighting in Libya, Russian President Vladimir Putin said if there are Russians in Libya, they do not represent the Russian state, nor are they paid by the state.
‘NO HELP’ TO LIBYAN PEOPLE
Russian private military contractors clandestinely fought in support of Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine, Reuters and other media previously reported. The Russian state denies the use of private military contractors abroad.
The UN sanctions monitors identified more than 24 flights between Russia and eastern Libya from August 2018 to August 2019 by civilian aircraft “strongly linked to, or owned by” Wagner Group or related companies.
The monitors listed the details of 122 Wagner operatives of “many who are highly probably operational, or have been operational, in Libya.” They said 39 were from Wagner’s specialist sniper group and the remaining 83 operatives from Wagner combat units.
The report said forces affiliated with the Government of National Accord captured arms “typical of weaponry observed in use by ChVK Wagner operatives in eastern Ukraine and Syria.”
The monitors are investigating social media reports a six-month contract between Wagner and Haftar ended on October 15 last year and accusations that by this time Haftar paid half of more than $173 million owed.
Across Wagner Group, personnel are predominantly Russian and include citizens of Belarus, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine, the report said. It added they were identified using equipment typically reserved for Russian armed forces.
Asked about private military contractors in Libya, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was a matter of concern for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“It is of no help to the people of Libya who are in dire need of political reconciliation so peace can return to their country,” Dujarric told reporters.