Fri, Jul 22, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Libya criticizes French troops in its territory

AFP, PARIS

Libya’s UN-backed government on Wednesday criticized the presence of French troops in the chaos-wracked country, as French President Francois Hollande confirmed France has soldiers there after three died.

The presence of the troops in Libya was a “violation” of the nation’s sovereignty, the government of national accord said on Facebook following Hollande’s announcement that its soldiers had been in the country.

The government said it would welcome “any help given to us by friendly nations in the fight against DAESH,” using another name for the Islamic State (IS) group, which controls the key Libyan city of Sirte.

However, any assistance given “should be based on a request [by the Libyan unity government] or in coordination” with it, the statement added.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of several Libyan cities to protest against the French military presence, mainly in Tripoli and Misrata, about 200km east of the capital, according to an Agence France-Presse photographer and Libyan television.

“Get your hands off Libya,” one placard held by a child attending the protest in the capital read.

“No French intervention,” read another, written in English.

Protesters waved the Libyan flag as one woman burned a French flag.

Hollande on Wednesday said three French soldiers were killed during a mission to gather intelligence in Libya.

Without revealing when the incident took place, Hollande said the troops died in a helicopter accident while taking part in “dangerous intelligence operations.”

Libyan sources gave a different account of events, saying that the M17 helicopter was shot down by surface-to-air missiles.

They were “probably targeted by Islamist groups in the Magroun area, about 65km west of Benghazi” on Sunday, a commander of forces loyal to controversial General Khalifa Haftar said.

Another source close to Haftar — who opposes the internationally backed unity government in Tripoli, as well as the Islamist factions that have overrun large parts of the country — said the dead soldiers were military advisers.

Announcing their deaths earlier, French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian praised the officers’ “courage of devotion,” but gave no details of how they were killed.

Rival militias in Libya have been vying for power since the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Several Islamist groups, including the Islamic State, have a presence around Benghazi, which is situated in the east, analysts said.

The IS’ main stronghold is the central coastal city of Sirte.

Forces loyal to the unity government have been embroiled in a two-month battle to try to retake the city from the militants.

Western powers have been nervously watching the group’s advance on Europe’s doorstep.

Hollande said Libya was experiencing “dangerous instability.”

“It’s only a few hundred kilometers from Europe’s shores,” he said.

France had previously revealed its warplanes were carrying out reconnaissance flights over the country from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.

However, Paris has never confirmed reports that it has intelligence agents or special forces on the ground.

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