Turkey 'sought Libyan peace plan but undermined by bombing'

The Turkish government tried to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power in Libya but the start of the coalition attacks on government forces stymied any progress, reports say.

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ISTANBUL // Efforts by the Turkish government to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power in Libya were undermined by the start of the coalition attacks on government forces in the North African country last week, a Turkish official said yesterday.

The official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said a newspaper story about a Turkish peace plan that had been foiled by the attacks was "partially true". A Turkish initiative "to find middle ground" in Libya "never got off the ground", the official said in an e-mail. "And with the bombardment it is difficult to make any progress."

Quoting unnamed sources involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations with both the government and the opposition in Libya, the Hurriyet newspaper reported Ankara had kept the United States informed about the talks, but the initiative came to nothing because of the attacks. "France bombarded a solution," the newspaper said in its headline.

Turkey, which regards itself as a regional power and mediator, has made no secret of its intention to broker a peaceful solution to the crisis in Libya, but details of the Turkish efforts had remained sketchy until now.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has said publicly that he has spoken several times on the telephone with Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, as well as a son of the Libyan leader and leading government officials. Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, held talks with Libyan opposition representatives last week. Ankara says it wants Col Qaddafi to step down but has criticised the air attacks on government installations.

"Qaddafi has to go," Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, told Turkish reporters accompanying him on a visit to Ghana, according to accounts of the conversations in yesterday's newspapers. "But this has to be done without causing more suffering for the Libyan people."

According to Hurriyet, the Turkish plan included free elections and work on a new constitution for Libya. A clear timetable for the transition of power was to be worked out within three months, the newspaper claimed. One option was to be for Col Qaddafi to hand over power to one of his sons for a transition period. Col Qaddafi or his sons were to be given the chance to create their own political party to compete in free elections.

In the days before the air strikes began on March 19, Ankara was hopeful that a solution could be found, according to Hurriyet. But work on the plan stopped when the attacks started.

After creating a fait accompli with the attacks, France came under pressure from its own allies, an unnamed Turkish official involved in the process told the newspaper. "The main players of the coalition forces are starting to turn against France," the official was quoted as saying. According to news reports yesterday, Turkey, which had not been invited to the Paris conference on Libya last week, has received an invitation to attend a second international meeting in London next week.

In Ankara, the Turkish parliament yesterday approved the deployment of Turkish navy vessels off the Libyan coast to help Nato forces supervise the international arms embargo against the country. The chamber gave the green light for the deployment in a session closed to the public.