May 8, 2019 / 9:22 PM / 2 months ago

U.N. report finds likely use of armed drone in Libya by Haftar or 'third party'

UNITED NATIONS, May 8 (Reuters) - United Nations sanctions monitors are investigating likely use of an armed drone by eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces or a supporting “third party” in an attack last month on troops affiliated with Libya’s internationally-recognized government, according to a confidential report to the U.N. Security Council.

The report, seen by Reuters on Wednesday, found that a Blue Arrow air to surface missile (BA-7) was likely used in the attack near Libya’s capital Tripoli on April 20, and that such a weapon is designed to be fired by a Wing Loong drone.

The U.N. monitors also said video showed other air attacks on Tripoli were “almost certainly from air to surface missiles.”

“The panel is now investigating the probable use of Wing Loong UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) variants by the LNA or by a third party in support of the LNA,” the sanctions monitors wrote in the brief May 2 report. “It’s introduction to Libya is ... a violation of the arms embargo by an as yet unconfirmed party.”

The latest flare-up of violence in Libya - which has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 - began a month ago, when eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s LNA advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli.

Haftar’s forces predicted victory within days, but the forces of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s government has bogged them down in southern suburbs with help from armed groups from western Libyan factions.

More than 440 people have been killed and tens of thousands of civilians displaced, according to the United Nations.

The U.N. report notes that the BA-7 missile is only in use in China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kazakhstan, but adds that some countries operating Wing Loong drones could also be using the missiles. It said they were in use by China, the UAE, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia and Uzbekistan.

The UAE and Egypt have backed Haftar and see his forces as a bulwark against Islamists in north Africa. The UAE and Egyptian missions to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

While the BA-7 missile and Wing Loong drones are produced by China, the report notes that it is “almost certain” that the weapon was not directly supplied by the “manufacturer or by the member state to any parties in Libya.”

“It is highly likely present due to post-delivery diversion by the original purchaser or the subsequent owner,” it found.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols Editing by Bill Berkrot

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