BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces said that 10 drums of uranium declared missing by the U.N. nuclear watchdog had been found near the warehouse they were taken from in southern Libya.
Khaled Mahjoub, head of a media unit for the Libyan National Army, the main eastern military force, said in a statement that the 10 missing barrels had been recovered, though a separate video he sent showed workers counting 18.
The IAEA said in a confidential statement to member states seen by Reuters that it detected the missing uranium during a check at an unnamed site in Libya on Tuesday which it had postponed last year because of the security situation.
Mahjoub said the site was a warehouse towards the border with Chad that the IAEA visited in 2020 and sealed with red wax. The barrels were found about 5 km (3 miles) from the warehouse, he added.
He speculated that a group from Chad had raided the warehouse and taken the barrels hoping they might contain weapons or ammunition, but had abandoned them.
The IAEA said it was aware of media reports that the material has been found and was working to verify them.
It told member states that the uranium ore concentrate had been at a site not under government control requiring complex logistics to reach. It said the missing uranium could represent a radiological and nuclear security concern.
The LNA, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, was at war with western forces from 2014-20 and launched an assault on Tripoli in 2019 to try to take control of government there.
Since that bout of conflict ended with a ceasefire, the political process aimed at reuniting Libya has stalled and eastern factions reject the legitimacy of the internationally recognised administration in Tripoli.
The LNA was backed in the conflict by the Russian Wagner Group, which a U.N. panel of experts said in 2020 had deployed up to 1,200 fighters in Libya. The LNA at times also fought alongside fighters from Chad.