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LIBYA

Haftar promises to protect Libya from "Turkish invaders"

Fighters loyal to military commander Khalifa Haftar march during the morning assembly in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Fighters loyal to military commander Khalifa Haftar march during the morning assembly in the eastern city of Benghazi. Photo: Abdullah Doma/AFP
2 min

Libya’s eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar has promised to fight Turkish forces if UN-led peace talks in Geneva break down.

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“We cannot sit idly by,” said Haftar, according to comments to a Russian news agency carried by Sputnik News. "The armed forces will fulfill their national and constitutional duty to protect citizens, the country’s sovereignty and borders from Turkish invaders,” added Haftar.

Haftar accused Libya's Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of using the ceasefire to transfer Syrian mercenaries, Turkish soldiers, terrorists and weapons to Tripoli. Haftar also said he supported European Union plans to use a naval mission to enforce a UN arms embargo.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed on Friday that Syrian fighters are operating in Libya alongside a Turkish training force, according to reports from the AFP news agency. “There are also people from the Syrian National Army,” said Erdogan, referring to fighters formerly known as the Free Syrian Army.

Erdogan levelled fresh accusations at Russia, saying some 2,500 mercenaries had been sent to Libya by Moscow. He said some “15,000 terrorists” were supporting Haftar.

Turkey, as well as Qatar, backs the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which opposes Haftar who is supported by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

'More hope' in UN talks

UN envoy Ghassan Salame on Thursday kicked off military negotiations between the GNA and Haftar loyalists. The GNA had shunned a second round of indirect talks following a rocket attack on a port in Tripoli. However, GNA representatives returned to negotiations following a short break, Salame told the AFP news agency.

Salame optimistically described both sides in discussions as returning for fresh talks with “even more energy towards finding a deal,” referring to a military settlement as “essential”.

Libya has been in conflict since the toppling of longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, sparking fighting between armed factions vying for control of the oil-rich country.

Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli last April and made a number of quick advances, but his fighters stalled on the edge of the city. The first round of military discussions ended with no outcome earlier this month, although Salame has said there is “more hope” in these latest negotiations.

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