Turkey fires back at 'unacceptable' French criticism over role in Libya

Turkey fires back at 'unacceptable' French criticism over role in Libya
Turkey has hit back at France on Tuesday over what it described as 'unacceptable' criticism for its support of the internationally-recognised government in Libya.
3 min read
Turkey has backed the Libyan government against rogue general Haftar [Getty]

Turkey shot back Tuesday at "unacceptable" criticism from France over its armed support for the government in the Libyan capital Tripoli, accusing Paris of being an obstacle to peace.

Turkey, supported by its main regional ally Qatar, backs the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in the conflict against the forces of eastern Libya rogue General Khalifa Haftar.

France, despite public denials, has long been suspected of favouring Haftar, who has the backing of Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

"The main obstacle to establishing peace and stability in Libya is the support given by France and other countries" to Haftar, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement, denouncing as "unacceptable" the French criticism.

France's support for Haftar "has worsened the crisis in Libya," the ministry added, accusing Paris of serving as the "subcontractor for some countries in the region," an allusion to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The heated exchange risks raising tension further between Ankara and Paris, two NATO allies whose relations have deteriorated since 2016.

On Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned what he called Turkey's growing military support for the GNA "in direct violation" of the United Nations embargo.

On Sunday, a senior French presidential official said Paris was angered by an "even more aggressive and insistent stance from Turkey, with seven Turkish ships deployed off the Libyan coast and violations of the arms embargo.

"The Turks are behaving in an unacceptable manner and are exploiting NATO. France cannot just stand by," added the official, who asked not to be named.

The comments came after a Turkish warship last Wednesday prevented a new EU naval mission enforcing the Libya arms embargo from checking a suspect freighter off the Libyan coast.

Turkey has sent Syrian fighters, military advisors and drones in support of the GNA, in a deployment which has changed the course of the conflict, with Haftar's forces enduring a string of defeats.

Meanwhile, Turkish officials on Monday said Turkey and Russia will continue to hold talks on a ceasefire in Libya despite a high-level meeting being cancelled on the weekend.

Russian ministers were due to visit Istanbul on Sunday but both countries said the visit would not take place, and neither gave a reason.

"We decided it would be more helpful to continue talks at a technical level," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Istanbul on Monday.

Read also: HRW calls on Libya's Haftar to probe 'war crimes' by loyalists

Reports in Turkish media suggested the two sides disagreed over the details of a ceasefire and agreed to downgrade the level of talks to try to resolve the issues.

However, Cavusoglu insisted there were no differences in opinion over "fundamental principles" regarding Libya, but that it was important to prevent another failed ceasefire.

A previous truce attempt collapsed earlier this year and shortly afterwards the GNA began to register battlefield victories - with the help of Turkish military advisers and drones.

Cavusoglu said it would be "unrealistic" for Turkey and Russia to make decisions without consulting the Libyans, "especially the legitimate government".

He dismissed speculation of a link with the situation in Syria, where Turkey and Russia are also on opposing sides of the war.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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