While Paris admitted that its anti-tank missiles were found at a Libyan base, it denied supplying them to strongman Khalifa Haftar's forces. French officials did not explain how the missiles reached the Libyan militia.
In an admission to its alleged role in the Libyan conflict, French authorities confirmed a report in The New York Times on Wednesday that missiles found at a base used by strongman Khalifa Haftar's forces belonged to France.
According to a statement from the French Defense Ministry, the US-made Javelin missiles discovered in a camp south of Tripoli had been purchased by France. France, however, denied supplying them to Haftar in breach of a UN arms embargo, saying French forces operating in the North African country had lost them after the weapons became defective.
"Damaged and out-of-use, these weapons were being temporarily stocked in a warehouse ahead of their destruction," the statement said. "They were not transferred to local forces."
The Defense Ministry's statement did not say how the French forces lost track of the missiles or how Haftar's forces got hold of them.
The missiles, reportedly worth over $170,000 (€150,000) each, were seized when the military loyal to the UN-recognized government recently overran a pro-Haftar base in Gharyan south of Tripoli.
The discovery of missiles could boost suspicions that France is supporting Haftar forces in Libya.
Claudia Gazzini, a senior Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group, told the AFP news agency that the French government needed to answer questions about whether French troops were present on the ground when the Haftar base was overrun.
"The French need to clarify in greater detail," Gazzini said. "The open question is whether or not they are actively supporting Haftar forces in their offensive on Tripoli."
Haftar launched an offensive to oust Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in April. The fighting has so far killed at least 1,000 people.
In a video distributed by pro-Sarraj forces, a Haftar commander alleges French and United Arab Emirates soldiers were at the Gharyan base when it was captured. France has dismissed the video as "fake news."
French forces are known to be operating in war-torn Libya, although President Emmanuel Macron denied taking sides in the conflict.
"These weapons were for the protection of forces undertaking intelligence and counterterrorism measures," the Defense Ministry statement said.
Libya plunges into chaos
Libya has been in turmoil since the ouster and killing of long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.
Fighting in Tripoli has been fierce since the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, launched an offensive in April for control of Tripoli. In a stalemated conflict, Haftar's forces are battling militias backed by Libya's Tripoli's Government of National Accord (GNA).
On Friday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously called for both sides of the violent power struggle in Libya to de-escalate violence and return to the negotiating table.
The 15-member body also strongly condemned an airstrike that hit a migrant detention center in Tajoura outside the capital, Tripoli, last Tuesday, killing at least 53 people, including women and children.
shs/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)