TRIPOLI (AFP) – Libya’s internationally recognised government on Thursday demanded urgent answers after Paris conceded French missiles were found at a base used by strongman Khalifa Haftar whose forces are fighting to take over the capital Tripoli.
Foreign Minister Mohamad Tahar Siala has asked French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to “urgently explain” how the missiles “reached Haftar’s forces, when they were delivered and how”, according to a ministry statement.
Haftar in April ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army on an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the United States (UN)-recognised Government of National Accord.
The battle is the latest turmoil to rock the North African country which has been caught up in fighting between rival forces since the fall of leader Muammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Siala also demanded to know “the quantities of weapons, whose existence (in Libya) contradicts the French government declarations… of support” to Tripoli’s national unity government.
France’s defence ministry, confirming a report in the New York Times, on Wednesday said the United States (US)-made Javelin missiles discovered in June at a camp south of Tripoli had been purchased by France.
But it denied supplying them to Haftar in breach of a UN arms embargo, saying French forces operating in the war-torn country had lost track of them after they were judged to be defective.
The anti-tank missiles, worth USD170,000 (EUR150,000) each, were seized when forces loyal to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli overran the pro-Haftar base in Gharyan, 100 kilometres south of Tripoli.
Three of them were shown to journalists, including AFP reporters, on June 29 alongside Chinese-made shells bearing the markings of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The French ministry statement did not explain how the missiles were lost and the find is likely to boost suspicions that Paris is backing Haftar on the ground.