France Wednesday denied providing missiles to forces loyal to renegade self-proclaimed Gen. Khalifa Haftar in Libya's east, in an embarrassing admission that raises fresh questions about its role in the conflict. Confirming a report in The New York Times, the defense ministry said in a statement that U.S.-made Javelin missiles discovered in a camp south of Tripoli at the end of June had been purchased by France. But it denied supplying them to rebel commander Haftar and breaching a U.N. arms embargo, saying French forces operating in the war-torn country had lost track of them after they were judged to be defective.
The statement from the French ministry did not explain how the missiles had been lost and will likely increase suspicions that Paris is backing Haftar on the ground, while also giving him diplomatic support internationally. French special forces and members of its DGSE intelligence service are known to be operating in Libya, which descended into chaos after a 2011 uprising and NATO-backed military campaign against Moammar Gadhafi.
The Libyan conflict has drawn in a range of regional and international actors who are all competing for influence. Haftar, a former Gadhafi officer, has been trying to destroy the Tripoli-based, internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for months. His militia launched an offensive in April against the Tripoli-based government, seeking to capture Tripoli from the GNA but has so far been unsuccessful. The fighting has claimed at least 1,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands of people.
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