TRIPOLI -- Hundreds of Russian mercenaries fighting for the Wagner Group fled fighting near the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Monday (May 25) after being routed by the United Nations (UN)-backed government.
The Wagner Group is a Russian paramilitary organisation that serves the agenda of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The development comes after a series of setbacks for military strongman Khalifa Haftar's year-long offensive to seize the capital from the UN-recognised 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 wrote on Twitter.
Pro-GNA forces May 25 said some "1,500 to 1,600 mercenaries" had fled from the front lines in Tripoli to Bani Walid, some 145km southeast of the capital.
On the previous day seven cargo planes landed at the town's airport, bringing in munitions and weaponry and evacuating the fleeing fighters, they said.
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.
On May 23, pro-GNA forces said they had seized three barracks south of the capital, days after Haftar's forces said their fighters would pull back from some positions south of Tripoli.
Haftar's attempt to seize Tripoli has left hundreds dead, including dozens of civilians, and displaced more than 200,000 people.
The newest setbacks for Haftar come amid reports of a growing rift between Haftar and the Kremlin-backed mercenaries.
The rift is over Haftar's unpaid debt of $150 million to the Wagner Group, said a military source close to Haftar.
Haftar refused to pay off the contract when it ended last year because the Russians failed to carry out their side of the deal, the source said.
The Wagner Group sent inexperienced and ineffective "rookie fighters" from Syria, Belarus and Serbia to Libya, the source said.
Haftar's cronies have been in constant disputes with the Wagner mercenaries sent to Libya, the source said, citing their inexperience and ineffectiveness.
Thousands of Wagner Group contractors are said to be doing the Kremlin's bidding in several foreign conflicts including in Syria, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and Libya.