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

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - U.S. federal agents are in Cyprus inspecting a light aircraft, Cypriot police said on Wednesday, suggesting continuing international interest in a plane believed by U.N. experts to have been obtained two years ago to play a role in Libya's war.

The aircraft, which the United Nations believes was modified to carry weapons, has been in a hangar at an airport in Cyprus since 2019.

In an emailed response to Reuters questions about the plane, Cyprus's transport ministry provided identification codes that match one of three aircraft cited in a March 2021 U.N. report by independent sanctions monitors about the conflict in Libya.

That report detailed allegations of a proposed private military operation by Blackwater founder Erik Prince in support of Libya's then eastern-backed commander Khalifa Haftar in 2019.

Prince has denied any claims he was at any point involved in any operations in Libya.

U.N. weapons inspectors said the proposal, codenamed Project Opus, had to be aborted in June 2019 after Haftar was unimpressed with helicopters procured for the operation.

Libya was racked with violence between rival factions since the 2011 uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, drawing in foreign powers. A U.N.-backed ceasefire was agreed last year following the collapse of Haftar's 14-month offensive against Tripoli.

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.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas, Editing by William Maclean)

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