Col Muammar Gaddafi's regime has spent $3.5 million (£2.1m) hiring hundreds of mercenaries from north Africa to help defeat anti-government rebels, according to senior Nato officials.
According to the defector, who has not been named, the mercenaries are being paid $10,000 each to fight for Col Gaddafi for two months. The deal with the mercenaries was arranged last month after serious anti-government protests threatened to overthrow the regime.
The majority of the fighters are reported to be members of the Sahrawi tribe who are based in the Western Sahara, and have been fighting a war of independence against Morocco as members of the Polisario Front.
Col Gaddafi's officials have also recruited scores of fighters from rebel movements in Niger and Mali that have close links with the Gaddafi regime.
In the past Nato officers have received reports that Col Gaddafi has relied heavily on foreign mercenaries to defend his regime, but the documents produced by recent defectors show he is still actively looking to recruit more fighters.
"Gaddafi is using all his contacts in the region to bring more mercenaries into Libya to defend his regime," said a senior Nato officer.
Col Gaddafi is also believed to have recruited mercenaries from Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and possibly even Asia and eastern Europe.
Libyan opposition groups have accused the mercenaries of being responsible for some of the worst excesses committed by the regime, including the murder of women and children.
* Dr. Sidi M. Omar, Ambassador of the Sahrawi Republic (SADR)to Ethiopia and the African Union, responds as follows:
The article claims that members of the Frente POLISARIO were involved in the ongoing conflict in Libya. We categorically deny these baseless allegations and challenge all those parties that propagate these kinds of preposterous accusations to bring forth any evidence in their possession to prove their claims. Needless to say, these unfounded allegations emanate from those quarters that have vested interest in discrediting our liberation movement.
The Frente POLISARIO is an internationally recognised liberation movement whose sole aim is to liberate Western Sahara from Morocco’s illegal occupation and to enable the Sahrawi people to exercise their internationally recognised right to self-determination and independence. Moreover, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a full and founding member of the African Union. Its position as to the on-going conflict in Libya stems from the same policy of the African Union, and thus it has publically reaffirmed its strong commitment to the respect for the unity and territorial integrity of Libya as well as its full support for the efforts deployed by the AU High-Level ad-hoc Committee on Libya.