Serbian mercenaries in Libya?

03/06/2011

To fight his own people, Gaddafi has reportedly enlisted foreign soldiers – and mercenaries from European countries.

(Various sources -- 23/02/11 - 26/05/11)

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Gaddafi's use of foreign fighters shows that he lacks support from Libyans, analysts say. [Reuters]

Since the outbreak of the popular uprising against his more than 40-year-long rule began in mid-February, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has resorted to hiring foreign fighters, mostly from Africa, to quell the challenge to his rule.

According to Michel Koutouzis, a leading criminologist whose French-registered consulting company does research for EU and UN institutions, as many as 500 European mercenaries have also joined the colonel's ranks.

Although the bulk of them come from Belarus, Serbia and Ukraine, others are citizens of EU member states, the Greek analyst said. According to media reports and bloggers, he is paying mercenaries up to $2,500 per day.

"In Libyan society, there is a taboo against killing people from your own tribal group," a report by Brussels-based EUobserver on April 26th quoted Koutouzis as explaining. "This is one reason why Gaddafi needs foreign fighters."

Other experts have cited the Libyan leader's lack of trust in his own people.

It is not surprising that Gaddafi is hiring fighters from the former Yugoslavia, given their experience in warfare, Fatima Mahmud, a Libyan journalist and member of the Transitional National Council in Benghazi told Croatian daily Vecernji List in early April.

Aside from the Serbian mercenaries, who are believed to be involved mainly in the aerial assaults against Libyan rebels, nationals of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Croatia are believed to be fighting on the ground alongside the African recruits, she said.

She linked the involvement of Serbian fighters in Libya to the warm ties between Tripoli and Belgrade during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

"After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Gaddafi sided with Slobodan Milosevic and helped him in every way -- mostly financially -- to stay in power," Mahmud said in her interview with Vecernji List, published on April 8th.

Contradictory signals from the Serbian government have also been a factor, according to the Libyan journalist. Although Belgrade froze military and economic co-operation with Gaddafi's regime in March, critics say the government's stance remains ambiguous.

Meanwhile, Serbian nationalists have voiced support for Gaddafi, while condemning NATO's efforts to protect Libyan civilians.

The opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS), whose leader Vojislav Seselj is being tried for war crimes at the UN tribunal in The Hague, staged a pro-Gaddafi rally in Belgrade on April 9th.

"Gaddafi absolutely has our support and we absolutely think that non-meddling in one country's affairs has to be respected and that citizens of that country should choose the government that suits them," Dragan Todorovic, head of the SRS parliamentary caucus, said ahead of the protest.

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Speaking at the rally, he drew a parallel between NATO's air campaign to halt a crackdown by Serb forces on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999.

"The same mission, this time entitled 'Odyssey Dawn', is now being repeated in Libya, it represents the twilight of civilisation and the impunity of these criminals must end."

In early May, several internet news portals quoted Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic as saying that people in his country "are not indifferent to the bombing in Libya", as they have experienced the sufferings of civilians during NATO's 1999 attacks.

"Therefore we feel solidarity with Libyans," he said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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