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France condemns Turkey for ‘violating Berlin agreement on Libya’

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the annual dinner of the Co-ordination Council of Armenian Organizations of France (CCAF), in Paris, on January 29, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron has lambasted his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for sending warships and “mercenaries” to crisis-hit Libya, stressing that Ankara is breaching an agreement reached at a summit in Berlin earlier this month to halt foreign interference in the North African country.

“These past few days we have seen Turkish warships accompanied by Syrian mercenaries arrive on Libyan soil. This is a serious and explicit infringement of what was agreed upon in Berlin,” the French president said on Wednesday, referring to a multinational summit held in the German capital earlier this month.

Since 2014, two rival seats of power have emerged in Libya: the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and another group based in the eastern city of Tobruk, supported militarily by rebel forces under the command of a renegade general, Khalifa Haftar.

The rebels launched an offensive to capture the capital, Tripoli, in April last year. Despite intense fighting, they have so far failed to achieve their objective, and the offensive has stalled outside the capital.

Turkey reached a military agreement with the Libyan government recently and, on a request from Sarraj, pledged to send troops to Libya to help his government defend itself against Haftar’s attacks. While Ankara has since the Berlin summit said it would hold off the dispatch of troops to Libya, reports had already emerged of Turkey sending allied militants from Syria to the North African country.

The Berlin summit was held with the participation of leaders from Turkey, Russia, Egypt, France, Italy, Britain, and the United States, as well as Sarraj and Haftar, in the German capital on January 19 to help broker peace in Libya.

The final communiqué of the day-long summit, the first such event since 2018, called on all the parties concerned in the conflict “to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire.” Participants also pledged not to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs and its conflict. They also agreed to “fully respect” the arms embargo imposed on the North African country by the UN in 2011.

However, Haftar refused to sign the joint communiqué produced in Berlin.

And on Wednesday, the Turkish military said that four frigates and a refueling ship were located outside of Libya’s territorial waters in the central Mediterranean, claiming that the deployment had been made in order to support NATO operations in the region and conduct security activities for maritime trade routes.

In his Wednesday remarks, Macron said the Turkish deployment of warships and militants to Libya was a “clear violation” of what Erdogan had promised at the Berlin summit. “It is a failure to keep his word,” Macron said.

The French president also dismissed a maritime deal reached by Ankara and the Libyan government last year that would allow Turkey and Libya to have access to an economic zone despite the objections of Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus, which are situated between the two geographically.

“France supports Greece and Cyprus with regards to the sovereignty in their maritime zones and, along with our European partners, condemns Turkey’s intrusions and provocations,” Macron said, adding, “I must reiterate that the prerequisite for any political solution in Libya is the cancellation of this document.”

In response to Macron’s comments, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy claimed in a statement later on Wednesday that France itself had been the main source of “problems” in Libya since 2011, when Paris played the leading role in a military campaign by NATO that ousted Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi and when chaos spread in the country.

The statement also accused the French government of giving “unconditional support” to Haftar, accusing Paris of seeking to secure its say “on the natural resources in Libya” through that support.

For the past few weeks, Haftar has laid siege to the main oil fields in Libya, whose main income comes through exporting oil.

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