Forces backing Libya's UN-recognised government said Monday (May 25th) that hundreds of Russian mercenaries fighting for rival military commander Khalifa Haftar had been evacuated from combat zones south of the capital Tripoli.
The claim comes after a series of setbacks for Haftar's year-long offensive to seize the capital from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
"An Antonov 32 military cargo plane landed at Bani Walid airport to resume the evacuation of Wagner (Group) mercenaries who had fled southern Tripoli, to an as-yet unconfirmed destination," pro-GNA forces said on social media.
There was no immediate response by Haftar's forces to the GNA's claims on Monday.
Last month, in a report to the UN Security Council, UN experts corroborated US media reports that the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organisation seen as close to President Vladimir Putin, had sent fighters to back Haftar.
The Kremlin has always denied involvement.
At a UN Security Council videoconference earlier this month, Britain and the US urged Russia to stop sending mercenaries to Libya.
The Wagner Group had been co-ordinating a recruitment effort in Syria, enticing young men in the war-torn country to fight as mercenaries in Libya.
Pro-GNA forces said Saturday they had seized three barracks south of the capital, days after Haftar's forces announced their fighters would pull back from some positions south of Tripoli.
They said Monday some "1,500 to 1,600 mercenaries" had fled the frontlines in Tripoli to Bani Walid, around 145 kilometres southeast of the capital.
They said the previous day seven cargo planes had landed at the town's airport, bringing in munitions and weaponry and evacuating the fleeing fighters.
A video broadcast on the Tripoli-based Libya al-Ahrar television channel showed armed men boarding an Antonov 23-type military cargo plane.
A Russian-made Pantsir air defence missile system could be seen in the background.
Haftar's forces, who control much of eastern and southern Libya, have suffered a series of setbacks since April when GNA fighters ousted them from two strategic coastal cities.