| 23 October 2021, Saturday |

Cyprus says US agents check light aircraft cited in Libya war report

Cypriot police said on Wednesday that US federal officials are in Cyprus assessing a light aircraft, indicating continued international interest in a jet thought by UN experts to have been seized two years ago to play a part in Libya’s war.

The plane, which the UN suspects was modified to carry weapons, has been parked in a hangar at a Cyprus airport since 2019.

Cyprus’ transport ministry gave identification codes that match one of three aircraft named in a March 2021 U.N. report by independent sanctions monitors concerning the Libyan crisis in an emailed answer to Reuters inquiry about the plane.

In 2019, the report included claims of Blackwater founder Erik Prince planning a private military operation in support of Libya’s then-eastern-backed commander Khalifa Haftar.

Prince has dismissed any suggestions that he was ever involved in any Libyan operations.

According to United Nations weapons inspectors, the project, codenamed Project Opus, had to be canceled in June 2019 because Haftar was dissatisfied with the helicopters that had been bought for the operation.

Since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi and drew in foreign powers, Libya has been wracked by bloodshed between opposing factions. Following the failure of Haftar’s 14-month offensive against Tripoli, a UN-backed truce was struck last year.

In Cyprus, a police spokesman said U.S. federal agents, acting in cooperation with the United Nations, inspected the aircraft on Tuesday.

Cyprus had initially told the world body it had no record of the aircraft landing there in July 2019, according to the U.N. March 2021 report. Two transport ministry officials said it was due to wrong identification codes passed on by the United Nations.

Its presence in Cyprus was subsequently clarified in later communication with the United Nations, one of them said.

“It is being kept securely in storage at Paphos airport,” a transport ministry official said. It has not left the island since it arrived in 2019, the official added.