Russian aircraft active in Libya, AFRICOM says
KAIRO (Reuters) - Russian jets that were delivered to Libya in May are being used actively in the North African country, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said on Thursday.
At least 14 MiG-29s and several Su-24s were flown via Syria to Libya, where their Russian markings had been painted over, AFRICOM said in May.
AFRICOM said in a statement on Thursday that it had photographic evidence of a Russian plane taking off from Jufra in central Libya and that a MiG-29 was photographed near the city of Sirte.
The Russian Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sirte and Jufra are on the dividing line between areas in western Libya controlled by groups that are loyal to the internationally recognized government of the National Agreement (GNA) and eastern areas controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA) from Khalifa Haftar .
The LNA has withdrawn east in the past few weeks after a 14-month offensive in the capital, Tripoli, despite holding the Sirte line and still controlling the Jufra airbase.
The Russian aircraft were used to support private military companies (PMCs) sponsored by the Russian government, AFRICOM said.
"There is concern that these Russian aircraft will be flown by inexperienced, non-state PMC mercenaries who do not comply with international law because they are not bound by the traditional laws of armed conflict," said Bradford Gering, director of operations at AFRICOM.
"Russia continues to press for a strategic stop on NATO's southern flank, and this is at the expense of innocent Libyan lives," he said.
Foreign powers have become increasingly involved in Libya's conflict, which has poured weapons into the country in violation of a United States arms embargo.
Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt supported the LNA, while the GNA armed forces are supported by Turkey.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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