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French ‘not fighting’ in Libya, says commander

The newspaper Le Monde said French special forces were engaged in a’secret war’ against ISIS in Libya

Published: Updated:

French military advisers have been helping coordinate Libyan forces fighting ISIS insurgents in the eastern city of Benghazi, a senior Libyan military commander said on Thursday.

“The French military group in Benghazi are just military advisers who provide consultations to the Libyan National Army in its battle against terrorism, but they are not fighting with our Libyan forces,” special forces commander Wanis Bukhamada told Reuters. There was no immediate French comment.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported on Wednesday that French special forces and intelligence commandos were engaged in “a secret war” against ISIS in anarchy-ridden Libya in conjunction with the United States and Britain. France’s Defence Ministry declined comment on the report.

Libyan military forces in Benghazi are under the command of General Khalifa Haftar and loyal to the North African country’s government based in the eastern city of al-Bayda. A rival armed faction took over the capital Tripoli in the far west in 2014 and set up its own self-declared government.

Haftar’s forces have been advancing against ISIS in Benghazi, taking back neighborhoods that had been under militant control for months.

Western leaders have been looking at ways to stop the spread of ISIS in Libya, where militants have exploited a breakdown of state order since the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi to seize control of some towns.

Last Friday a U.S. air strike targeted Islamist militants in the western Libyan city of Sabratha, killing more than 40.

U.N. calls for ISIS action

In a related story, a United Nations report said on Thursday that all sides in Libya have committed war crimes and other human rights abuses in the past two years and those responsible should face investigation and prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

An investigation by six U.N. human rights officers compiled evidence of executions of captives, assassinations of prominent women activists, widespread torture, sexual crimes, abductions, indiscriminate military attacks on civilian areas, and abuse of children since the start of 2014.

“One of the most striking elements of this report lies in the complete impunity which continues to prevail in Libya and the systemic failures of the
justice system,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement.

The U.N. had recorded names of those allegedly responsible and there was “a process for engagement with appropriate bodies” such as the ICC, which has jurisdiction but not brought any prosecutions, said Gurdip Sangha, Libya desk officer at the U.N. human rights office.

He declined to say how many such names there were, saying there were varying degrees of evidence and corroboration in different cases.

The 95-page report, based on interviews with 200 witnesses and victims and 900 individual complaints, catalogues atrocities in a country that dissolved into chaos after the overthrow of Qaddafi in 2011.