Turkey’s Erdogan sends warning to Libyan commander as truce talks end inconclusively

Turkey won’t refrain from “teaching a lesson” to Khalifa Haftar if his eastern Libyan forces continue attacks against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Turkey and Russia failed to convince Haftar on Monday to sign a binding truce to halt his nine-month campaign to try to conquer the Libyan capital from forces aligned with the internationally recognized government.

The initiative was the latest attempt to stabilize the North African country beset by turmoil since the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Fayez al-Serraj, who heads the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), signed the truce proposal after indirect talks in Moscow on Monday, but Haftar left the Russian capital without signing.

The Russian Defence Ministry was quoted by Interfax news agency on Tuesday as saying Haftar had been positive about the ceasefire deal and was taking two days to consider it.

If the putschist Haftar’s attacks against the people and legitimate government of Libya continue, we will never refrain from teaching him the lesson he deserves.– Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president

But Erdogan said Haftar had “run away.” Turkey’s parliament voted this month to allow a troop deployment to help the Tripoli government to fend off Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries.

“If the putschist Haftar’s attacks against the people and legitimate government of Libya continue, we will never refrain from teaching him the lesson he deserves,” Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party lawmakers in parliament.

“It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya.”

He said Turkey had deep historical and social ties with the north African country, and Haftar would have taken over the entire nation if Ankara had not intervened.

Turkey will join Germany, Britain and Russia at a summit on Libya in Berlin on Sunday, he said.

Talks in Germany this weekend

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that Germany will host the meeting after consulting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Officials from the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, United Arab Emirates and Turkey, as well as several African and Arab countries are also invited.

Turkey’s move to approve troop deployment came after Ankara and the GNA signed two separate agreements in November: one on security and military co-operation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, infuriating Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus.

A member of the Libyan internationally recognized government forces fires during a fight with eastern forces in Ain Zara, Tripoli, in April. (Hani Amara/Reuters)

Haftar’s office and his forces have not officially confirmed the commander rejected the truce proposal, but a website linked to the forces said he would not sign.

Haftar and Serraj did not meet in Moscow directly, talking instead via Turkish and Russian mediators. They last met in Abu Dhabi in February 2019 before talks broke down over a power-sharing deal and Haftar moved his troops on Tripoli in April, after expanding his control beyond the east and south.

Serraj told Reuters in June he would never sit down again with Haftar.

Conflict in Libya has wrecked the economy, disrupted oil production and triggered flows of migration to Europe that have now largely been stemmed.

Turkey backs Haftar’s rival, Serraj, while Russian military contractors have been deployed alongside Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) forces, which are also backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan.

Haftar’s eastern-based troops have not been able to breach Tripoli’s defences, but have in recent weeks made some small advances with help from Russian mercenaries, residents say. That has pushed Turkey, which has business interests in the country, to deploy soldiers to Libya to help the Tripoli government.

Russia and Turkey have turned into major players in Libya, joining Arab countries such as Egypt or the UAE which have filled a void left by Western powers showing little interest in the OPEC producer since 2011.

Asked about Russian mercenaries, Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that any Russian citizens fighting in Libya were not representing the interests of the state or receiving money from the Kremlin.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin shown last week in Istanbul. Russia and Turkey have turned into major players in Libya, as the U.S. has offered conflicting statements on the fighting in the past year. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

The Tripoli war has wrecked Libya’s economy, and risks disrupting oil production and triggering flows of African migrants trying to reach Europe by boats with the help of smugglers exploiting the chaos.

The Moscow talks come after a ceasefire, initiated by Turkey and Russia, saw a lull in heavy fighting and air strikes on Sunday, though both factions accused each other of violating that truce as skirmishes continued around Tripoli.

Separately, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte flew to Ankara on Monday for talks on Libya with Erdogan.

Conte suffered a setback last week after Rome’s own bid to play a central role in resolving Libya’s conflict came off the rails. Italy has major energy interests in the country, as does France.

The U.S. State Department, as with the Canadian government, has expressed support for the GNA.

But U.S. President Donald Trump stunned international observers last spring by expressing support for “Field Marshal” Haftar in a statement. That statement was issued just days after Trump at the White House hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a Haftar ally.

The U.S. government has since backtracked from that statement and expressed support for UN-brokered talks to end the fighting. The White House also admonished Turkey for the vote to deploy troops, saying in a statement it was “complicating the situation in Libya.”

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