Saturday

25th May 2019

European mercenaries fighting for Gaddafi, expert says

Between 300 and 500 European soldiers of fortune, including EU nationals, are working for Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, a leading criminologist has said.

The European mercenaries are mostly specialists in heavy weapons, helicopter technology and tactics and command fees of several thousand US dollars a day. The majority come from Belarus, Serbia and Ukraine. There is a significant amount of Polish helicopter experts. Belgian, British, French and Greek nationals are also involved.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Detritus of war in Libya: specialists can command fees of several thousands of dollars a day (Photo: BRC)

The Europeans come on top of much larger numbers of hired fighters from the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali and Somalia, who are paid up to $2,000 a day. The men come and go via the 15-or-so still-operational military airports in southern Libya.

Gaddafi's official army has around 25,000 soldiers left due to desertions. But his sons also command three units of well-equipped militia, numbering between 35,000 and 50,000 men in total.

The information comes from Michel Koutouzis, a Greek expert on organised crime, whose French-registered company, Lotophages Consulting, does research on security issues for the EU institutions, the UN and the French government, and who spent February and March travelling in north Africa.

"In Libyan society, there is a taboo against killing people from your own tribal group. This is one reason why Gaddafi needs foreign fighters," Koutouzis told this website.

A contact linked to the rebel authorities, the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, told EUobserver that Algerian, Russian and Syrian serving military officers have also been helping Gaddafi.

"They began coming after the first US bombardment. Gaddafi changed his tactics - he brought in hundreds of four-by-four trucks from Algeria and stopped relying on tanks," the source said. "The Algerians and the Syrians are worried that Libya could set a bad example."

He added that Gaddafi uses mercenaries because he does not trust Libyans.

"There have been almost constant coups against him over the past 40 years. His personal bodyguard are all foreigners. In terms of his inner circle, the loyalists who really believe in him, it's about 10 people, and one of them [foreign minister Moussa Koussa] has defected."

For its part, Human Rights Watch, which has three people on the front lines in Libya, cast doubt on the reports.

The group's Peter Bouckaert referred to sources in South African mercenary circles, saying "they have not heard of any Europeans, South Africans or Zimbabweans going to fight for Gaddafi ... these networks are in touch with each other, so they would have heard."

He added that rebels tend to treat any sub-Saharan Africans they come across as mercenaries but that most of them are migrant workers. Bouckaert saw just one confirmed case of a hired fighter from Chad during four weeks in the field.

An EU security official and a Nato contact said they have not seen any internal reports about mercenaries. But the Nato source pointed to a press report about Colombian snipers in Misrata.

Looking at the history of mercenary activity in Africa, Alex Vines, a researcher at the Chatham House think-tank in London, said: "European mercenaries were a problem in the 1960s and then again in the 1990s after the Cold War ended. But it has become much more Africanised since then."

He added: "The definition of 'mercenary' is also an issue. What you more often have is individuals who are involved in selling weapons and then providing a bit of advice and training before disappearing."

A UN convention in 1989 defined a mercenary as "any person who is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict; is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and ... is neither a national of a party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a party to the conflict."

The convention obliges participating countries to take criminal proceedings against nationals caught doing such activity. Just three EU states - Belgium, Cyprus and Italy - have signed up to the agreement out of a total 33 UN members.

EUobserved

Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'

The victory of the Dutch EU commissioner is news across the EU, yet the Netherlands is not allowed to publish the official result until Sunday evening.

EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'

EU leaders praised Theresa May's commitment to deliver an orderly Brexit - while they now brace themselves for an even more eurosceptic British prime minister.

Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?

This is a political crisis unprecedented in Austria since the war: the resignation of the vice-chancellor, firing of the interior minister, the mass resignation of FPO ministers, a snap election, and a no-confidence vote in the Austrian parliament on Monday.

News in Brief

  1. UK's May announces June 7 resignation date
  2. Ireland votes for EU election and divorce referendum
  3. Report: May to announce resignation plan on Friday
  4. Leading politicians: time for EU to have female leaders
  5. Poll: Finland's Green party to surge in EU elections
  6. High demand for postal voting in Denmark
  7. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations
  8. Switzerland unlikely to sign draft EU deal

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  2. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK
  3. Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'
  4. EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'
  5. Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?
  6. Italy train row exposes competing views of EU
  7. Dutch socialists on top in first EP election exit poll
  8. No usage data kept for EU parliament's 'Citizens' App'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us