Libya unity govt says Russian mercenaries evacuating

Government forces parade a Pantsir air defense system truck in the capital Tripoli on May 20, 2020, after its capture from forces loyal to Libya’s eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar. (AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2020

Libya unity govt says Russian mercenaries evacuating

  • Pro-GNA forces, with growing support from Turkey, have chalked up a series of victories in recent weeks largely thanks to their air superiority
  • At a UN Security Council videoconference earlier this month, Britain and the United States urged Russia to stop sending mercenaries to Libya

TRIPOLI: Forces backing Libya’s UN-recognized government said Monday that hundreds of Russian mercenaries fighting for rival military commander Khalifa Haftar had been evacuated from combat zones south of the capital Tripoli.
The claim comes after a series of setbacks for Haftar’s year-long offensive to seize the capital from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
“An Antonov 32 military cargo plane landed at Bani Walid airport to resume the evacuation of Wagner (Group) mercenaries who had fled southern Tripoli, to an as-yet unconfirmed destination,” pro-GNA forces wrote on Twitter.
There was no immediate response by Haftar’s forces to the GNA’s claims on Monday.
Several countries including Russia and Turkey have been accused of involvement in the battle between the GNA and Haftar’s forces.
Last month, in a report sent to the Security Council, United Nations experts corroborated US media reports that the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian paramilitary organization seen as close to President Vladimir Putin, had sent fighters to back Haftar.
The Kremlin has always denied involvement.
At a UN Security Council videoconference earlier this month, Britain and the United States urged Russia to stop sending mercenaries to Libya.
“Wagner Group activities continue to exacerbate the conflict and prolong the suffering of the Libyan people,” said British ambassador Jonathan Allen at that video meeting.
American ambassador Kelly Craft said that “all actors involved in the conflict in Libya must immediately suspend military operations.” Their Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzia, dismissed the claims as “speculation.”
Pro-GNA forces, with growing support from Turkey, have chalked up a series of victories in recent weeks largely thanks to their air superiority.
They said Saturday they had seized three barracks south of the capital, days after Haftar’s forces announced their fighters would pull back from some positions south of Tripoli.
Turkey has acknowledged sending fighters to support the GNA in Libya, but has not specified how many.
Pro-GNA forces said Monday some “1,500 to 1,600 mercenaries” had fled from the frontlines in Tripoli to Bani Walid, around 145 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of the capital.
They said the previous day seven cargo planes had landed at the town’s airport, bringing in munitions and weaponry and evacuating the fleeing fighters.
A video broadcast on the Tripoli-based Libya Al-Ahrar television channel showed armed men boarding an Antonov 23-type military cargo plane.
A Russian-made Pantsir air defense missile system could be seen in the background.
Haftar’s forces, who control much of eastern and southern Libya, have suffered a series of setbacks since April when GNA fighters ousted them from two strategic coastal cities.
Oil-rich Libya plunged into conflict after the ouster and killing of veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, with rival administrations and militias vying for power.
The conflict worsened when Haftar’s forces launched their offensive on Tripoli last April.
But despite early successes for Haftar, the battle for the capital — which has left hundreds dead, including dozens of civilians, and displaced more than 200,000 people — quickly stalled on its outskirts.
Intermittent fighting continues. Early on Monday, Libyans awoke to explosions and rocket fire, as they marked the second day of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Fitr.

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Yemen court begins trial of Houthi leaders

Updated 08 July 2020

Yemen court begins trial of Houthi leaders

  • Local security and military officers believe that Houthi sleeper cells were involved in directing drone

AL-MUKALLA: A Yemeni military court in the government-controlled city of Marib held the initial session of the trial of Iran-backed Houthi leaders on Tuesday, accused of masterminding the coup against the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in 2015 and the subsequent military campaign.

The defendants faced charges of forming a terrorist armed group called Ansar Allah, colluding with the Lebanese group Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), revolting against the republican system, putting Masur Hadi under house arrest and trying to kill him.

Along with the movement’s leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, among the 175 accused figures were Mohammed Al-Houthi, a member of the country’s Supreme Political Council, Abdullah Yahiya Al-Hakim, a senior military commander, the Houthi ambassador to Iran, Ibrahim Mohammed Al-Daylami, and dozens of ministers, intelligence, military and political officials.

According to the official Saba news agency, the prosecution demanded the maximum available punishments for the defendants, including the death penalty.

By the end of the session, the court decided to publish the names of the accused figures in local newspapers and demanded that they appear the same court on Sept. 25, or face prosecution in absentia.

With the help of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Houthi militias seized control of the capital Sana’a in September 2014, and placed Mansur Hadi under house arrest, dismissing his government and replacing it with their allied Revolutionary Committees. The Houthis killed Saleh in late 2017 after leading a brief military uprising in Sana’a.

Dismantled Houthi cell

Also in Marib, Yemen’s defense and interior ministries said on Tuesday that the Houthi cell that was dismantled in Marib’s Wadi Abeda area late last month was responsible for masterminding many attacks against government, military and security targets in Marib.

In a joint statement, the two ministries said the cell, led by Mohsen Saleh Subayan, planned and carried out attacks against local security forces and Saudi-led coalition troops in Marib, planted landmines and improvised explosive devices, assassinated military and security officers and smuggled weapons. The statement noted that Subayan, along with several of his associates, were killed when they resisted security forces that came to capture them, and that drones, weapons and munitions were found in the area. 

Local security and military officers believe that Houthi sleeper cells were involved in directing drone and missile strikes that targeted military camps in Marib since late 2015. The deadliest Houthi attack was in January 2020, when a drone and missiles fired by the Houthis landed at a camp, killing more than 110 soldiers, triggering heavy clashes between government forces and the Houthis, which disrupted diplomatic efforts to reach a peace deal led by the UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths.

Official media reported on Tuesday that Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed called the governor of Marib, Sultan Al-Arada, to congratulate him on dismantling the cell and foiling plots to undermine security and stability. Marib has hosted thousands of Yemeni army troops and coalition forces since the beginning of the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen in March 2015.