Around 300 foreign mercenaries have left eastern Libya, according to a statement by the French Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.
The move, initially announced in November by Libya's eastern-based forces loyal to the putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, was intended to stimulate a United Nations-backed agreement struck between the warring sides in the conflict through a joint military commission.
"This first withdrawal has taken place, which constitutes a positive first signal after the Nov. 12 conference," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre said, referring to a Paris meeting that was aimed at breaking the deadlock in Libya.
"It must now be followed up with the implementation as quickly as possible of a complete process for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces."
She did not say when the mercenaries had left or where they were from. Diplomats have said the departing mercenaries were from neighboring Chad.
The withdrawal comes after efforts to lead Libya into elections at the end of December were thrown into disarray when the country's electoral commission said a vote could not take place, citing what it called inadequacies in the electoral legislation and the judicial appeals process.
A cease-fire agreed on in 2020 in Geneva had already called for the removal of all foreign forces and mercenaries in January 2021 and that call was echoed during the Paris conference.
Mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group are entrenched alongside the pro-Haftar forces, which were supported in the war by Moscow, along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. Turkey sent troops in response to the request of the U.N.-recognized government based in Tripoli.
U.N. experts, who said they also traveled to France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Tunisia to complete their work, note that armed groups still control the majority of Libya.
The U.N. has previously estimated that 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters are deployed in Libya, including those from the Russian private security firm Wagner.
Libya has been struggling to move past the violence that has wracked the oil-rich nation since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The October 2020 cease-fire brought to an end a fierce yearlong battle sparked by Haftar's bid to seize the capital Tripoli.
It also led to a fragile unity government taking office in March, with a mandate to take the country to elections, but the country was unable to hold elections back in December.
Libyan rival parties have been in disagreement over the voting timetable, failing to see eye to eye on whether the presidential elections should be held simultaneously or separately.