Libya demanded urgent answers Thursday after Paris conceded French missiles were found at a base used by strongman Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are fighting to seize the capital Tripoli.
Foreign Minister Mohamad Tahar Siala asked French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to “urgently explain” how the missiles “reached Haftar’s forces, when they were delivered and how”, according to a ministry statement.
The call for an explanation comes after Wednesday’s admission by the French Defense Ministry that four U.S.-made Javelin missiles found in June at a pro-Haftar camp south of the Libyan capital of Tripoli had been purchased by France, without explaining how the arms came under new ownership.
Paris argued the U.S.-made Javelin missiles did not violate a U.N. arms embargo because they were intended to protect French forces combating jihadis in Libya, home to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The anti-tank missiles, worth $170,000 (150,000 euros) each, were seized when forces loyal to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli overran the pro-Haftar base in Gharyan, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Tripoli.
“These weapons were for the protection of forces undertaking intelligence and counter-terror missions,” the French Defense Ministry statement said, according to BBC.
France has publicly expressed support for the UN-backed government in Tripoli, while also regarding Haftar’s forces as helpful in the fight against Islamist militants.
“France has long supported all established forces engaged in the fight against terrorism, in Libya, in the Tripoli area and in Cyrenaica [the east of the country], as well as more broadly in the Sahel,” the French defence ministry said in its statement on Wednesday.
More than 1,000 people have died in the fighting since Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli, including scores killed in an air strike that hit a detention centre for migrants.