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Libya crisis

France blasts Turkey for role in Libya as crisis draws in foreign actors

French President Emmanuel Macron during a joint news conference with Tunisian President Kais Saied (not pictured) after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 22, 2020.
French President Emmanuel Macron during a joint news conference with Tunisian President Kais Saied (not pictured) after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 22, 2020. Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Turkey of "playing a dangerous game" in Libya, where its backing of the internationally recognised government of Fayez al-Sarraj has repelled a year-long assault by eastern military leader Khalifa Haftar. The sudden reversal has rattled not only France but Egypt.

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"We will not tolerate the role that Turkey is playing in Libya," Macron said Monday after talks in Paris with Tunisian President Kais Saied.

Calling Ankara’s military intervention a "dangerous game," the French president warned that it threatened not only Tripoli and the region but the whole of Europe.

Turkey has "gone against all of its commitments made at the Berlin conference," Macron said, referring to a peace summit earlier this year at the end of which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to a UN arms embargo and to end military support for the warring factions.

Instead, Erdogan has increased support for the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Its backing has enabled Sarraj’s Islamist forces to regain control of Tripoli from renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), in a major blow to Haftar’s year-long campaign to seize the capital.

Siding with Sarraj has nonetheless put Turkey in opposition to a growing list of foreign powers that support the rival LNA, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia.

France Haftar support

Paris has also been accused of supporting Haftar diplomatically behind the scenes, having previously provided him military assistance to fight Islamist militants. France denies the allegations.

Macron has repeatedly tried to broker agreements between the head of the Tripoli government and his rival eastern Libyan military leader, so far, in vain.

General Khalifa Haftar, commander in the Libyan National Army (R) and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (L) with French President Emmanuel Macron (M) after peace talks in La Celle-Saint-Cloud near Paris, on 25 July 2017.
General Khalifa Haftar, commander in the Libyan National Army (R) and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (L) with French President Emmanuel Macron (M) after peace talks in La Celle-Saint-Cloud near Paris, on 25 July 2017. (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

The French president, flanked by his Tunisian counterpart, on Monday condemned all outside interference in Libya.

"France and Tunisia urge all the warring parties to cease fire and respect their commitments to resuming UN-backed talks with the aim of restoring security for all Libyans," he insisted.

Macron’s call for peace was echoed by the US National Security Council through the voice of its ambassador to Libya Richard Norland.

“The current violence fuels the potential resurgence of ISIS and Al Qaeda in Libya, and is further dividing the country for the benefit of foreign actors, » he said.

Crossing red lines

The latest player to get involved in Libya’s conflict is Egypt. Cairo, like Paris, is displeased with Turkey’s role. Ankara’s support has bolstered a formerly weak Sarraj and paved the way for him to recapture the central city of Sirte, the hometown of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, key oil terminals, and the Al-Jufra air base.

“Sirte and Al-Jufra are a red line,” Egyptian President Fattah al-Sissi warned Saturday, and called on his army to "be prepared to carry out any mission here within our borders, or if necessary outside our borders."

On Tuesday, al-Sissi called an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the recent developments in Libya’s nine-year war, stressing that any Egyptian intervention would be done according to the United Nations Charter’s right to self-defence.

Turkey, which rejected an Egypt-brokered-ceasefire earlier this month, has accused Cairo of trying to "save Haftar," and describes him as the "biggest obstacle to peace."

France-Turkey at odds

The Libya crisis has further put a strain on relations between Nato allies Turkey and France.

The two traded barbs again last week when Paris accused Ankara of failing to allow a Nato inspection of one of its vessels, suspected of smuggling arms to Libya.

The incident further underscored Macron's claim that Nato is "brain dead."

"As long as we Nato members, Europeans, stakeholders, continue to be weak in our words or lack clarity, we will allow non-cooperative powers to win," he said.

The French leader has been particularly critical of Turkey's decision to transfer allied fighters from Syria to Libya, which has raised fears of a new proxy war.

"I do not want in six months, a year or two years’ time to see Libya turn into another Syria," Macron stated.

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