France has said its missiles have been found at a Libyan base used by forces loyal to military strongman Khalifa Haftar, in an embarrassing admission that raises fresh questions about its role in the conflict.
Confirming a report in the New York Times, a French defence ministry statement said it had purchased the US-made Javelin missiles discovered in June at a camp south of Tripoli.
But it denied supplying them to Haftar in breach of a UN arms embargo, saying French forces operating in the war-torn country had lost track of them after they were judged to be defective.
“Damaged and out-of-use, these weapons were being temporarily stocked in a warehouse ahead of their destruction,” it said. “They were not transferred to local forces.”
The anti-tank missiles were seized when forces loyal to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli overran the pro-Haftar base in Gharyan, 60 miles south of Tripoli.
Three of them were shown to journalists, including AFP reporters, on 29 June alongside Chinese-made shells bearing the markings of the United Arab Emirates.
Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group, an NGO, said the town of Gharyan had in the past housed facilities for obsolete weapons.
But there were unanswered questions about whether French troops were present when the base was overrun, she said.
“The French need to clarify in greater detail,” she said. “The open question is whether or not they are actively supporting Haftar’s forces in their offensive on Tripoli.”
Haftar’s opponents have branded him a dictator-in-the-making, but the military strongman is backed by some western and many regional countries as a bulwark against Islamist groups.
On 4 April, he launched an offensive on the Libyan capital seeking to overthrow the government of the prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj.
The fighting has claimed at least 1,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands of people.
The Libyan conflict has drawn in a range of regional and international actors and the country is awash with foreign weaponry despite the UN embargo.
France under Emmanuel Macron has publicly denied taking sides in the conflict and has called for a UN arms embargo to be enforced.