NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Erik Prince, the private security executive and supporter of former U.S. President Donald Trump, "at the very least” helped evade an arms embargo on Libya, according to excerpts from a United Nations report seen by Reuters.
Independent UN sanctions monitors accused Prince of proposing a private military operation - known as ‘Project Opus’ - to Libya’s eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar in April 2019 and helping procure three aircraft for it.
The UN monitors wrote in the report that they had "identified that Erik Prince made a proposal for the operation to Khalifa Haftar in Cairo, Egypt on, or about, 14 April 2019.” Haftar was in Cairo at the time to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The report described Prince’s proposal as "a well-funded private military company operation” designed to provide Haftar with armed assault helicopters, intelligence surveillance aircraft, maritime interdiction, drones, and cyber, intelligence and targeting capabilities.
"The Project Opus plan also included a component to kidnap or terminate individuals regarded as high value targets in Libya,” the monitors wrote.
Libya initially descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 when the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo. The country has been divided since 2014 between the internationally recognized government in its west and Haftar’s eastern-based forces.
The UN monitors reported that the air and maritime component of ‘Project Opus’ had to be aborted in June 2019 after Haftar was unimpressed with the aircraft procured for the operations and "made threats against the team management.”
A South African team leader evacuated 20 private military operatives to Malta on inflatable boats, the monitors said.
The rival Libyan administrations agreed a ceasefire in October, but have not pulled back their forces. Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates and Russia, while the government is backed by Turkey. Egypt had backed Haftar, but Sisi last week offered his country’s support to Libya’s interim government.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has demanded an end to foreign interference in Libya.