By Jihad Nasr
Forces loyal to Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar on Thursday gave African “mercenaries” -- who are allegedly operating in Libya’s south -- nine days to depart the country.
The move comes in the wake of armed clashes that recently occurred in the city of Sabha some 750 kilometers south of capital Tripoli.
Pro-Haftar forces (based in the eastern city of Tobruk), along with Libya’s UN-backed unity government (based in Tripoli), claim that African “mercenaries” played a role in the unrest.
According to a statement issued by pro-Haftar forces, Africans from “neighboring countries” (it did not say which countries) were being exploited by local militias to “destabilize” areas of southern Libya.
The statement went on to give these African “mercenaries” until March 17 to “leave Libyan territory and return to their home countries”.
Those who did not comply, the statement warned, would be “compelled” to leave the region.
Hamid Rafi al-Khayali, head of Sabha’s municipal council, recently told Anadolu Agency that pro-Haftar forces were cooperating with the Tripoli government to “purge the area of foreign fighters”.
Since Feb. 25, the southern city of Sabha has been rocked by sporadic clashes.
According to one narrative of events, the clashes had pitted two local tribes -- the Tabu and the Awlad Suleiman -- against one another.
According to a second narrative, the clashes had pitted the Libyan army against “foreign forces”, including armed groups from neighboring Chad.
The veracity of both narratives still remains unclear.