SUN 26 - 5 - 2019
May 8, 2019
The Daily Star
Haftar forces shoot down Tripoli warplane, video shows apparent foreign pilot
BENGHAZI, Libya: Forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar shot down a Tripoli government warplane purportedly flown by a foreign mercenary south of the Libyan capital Tuesday, the Libyan National Army said. The LNA media unit released photographs of what it said was the pilot receiving medical treatment while seated on a chair. One showed an LNA commander, Abdel-Salam al-Hassi, standing behind him.
Video posted on social media, which an LNA source said was authentic, showed the pilot, looking groggy and wearing a blood-soaked T-shirt and khaki jacket, being questioned in English.
Asked his name, he said what sounded to be Jimmy Rees but his answer was not clear. He gave his age as 29 and said he was “from Portugal.”
Asked what he was doing in Libya, he said: “I was requested to destroy roads and bridges.”
Asked who sent him, he said it was a civilian contract with someone called Hadi but he did not know his full name.
In Lisbon, the Portuguese Defense Ministry said they could not confirm the pilot’s nationality.
“For now the only thing we can say is that he is not a Portuguese soldier,” a ministry spokeswoman told Reuters. Correspondents from the news agency in Lisbon said the man did not sound Portuguese.
A spokesman for forces aligned with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, which is based in Tripoli, had no immediate comment on the incident.
The eastern-based LNA, led by Haftar and backed principally by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, began an offensive against Tripoli in early April but its advance has been blocked by forces loyal to Tripoli on the city’s southern outskirts.
The almost five-week-old battle on the southern outskirts of the capital has killed at least 432 people, wounded 2,069 and displaced some 55,000 others, according to the U.N.
The two sides often accuse each of using foreign mercenaries and outside military assistance.
The escalation is a setback for efforts by the United Nations and Western states to end the chaos and political division in Libya eight years after a NATO-backed uprising that toppled former leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The head of the GNA, Fayez al-Sarraj, kicked off a European tour Tuesday to drum up support against an attack on Tripoli by Haftar, who has urged his troops to “wipe out” government forces.
The contents of a meeting between Sarraj and the Italian prime minister - which Italian media said lasted about 90 minutes - were not made public, but Giuseppe Conte warned against possible military action in Libya.
Conte said on the sidelines of a separate event that “there is no military solution that could guarantee the stabilization of the country.”
“The military solution would, in any case, come at the cost of human lives and humanitarian crises,” Conte said.
After his meeting with Conte, Sarraj was set to travel to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron Wednesday.
The France visit comes after the GNA repeatedly accused Paris of politically backing Haftar’s assault.
Italy, Libya’s former colonial power, is a key backer of the GNA and has echoed calls by Merkel for a “unified” European position and a political solution to resolve the crisis.
In a slip of the tongue, Conte said he had spoken “with president Haftar,” but immediately corrected himself to say: “I’ve spoken with president Sarraj. I am confident I will be able to meet General Haftar soon. We are seeking to establish how and when.”
Sarraj may also possibly travel to London as part of his tour.
Britain has pushed for a resolution at the U.N. Security Council demanding a cease-fire in Libya but its efforts have foundered amid divisions at the world body.
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