Libyan official says Turkish troops unwanted

Libyan parliament speaker Aguila Saleh said Turkey’s actions are destabilising the region

Aguila Saleh Issa, the head of Libya's parliament, speaks during an interview with AFP in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on December 28, 2019.  / AFP / Christina ASSI
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Turkey’s willingness to dispatch troops to Libya is “unacceptable” and such a move would constitute unwanted meddling in the affairs of a friendly nation, the speaker of the country’s parliament said on Saturday.

Aguila Saleh said in a joint statement with his Cypriot counterpart that Turkey’s actions were increasing tensions and destabilising the region.

Mr Saleh and Cypriot parliamentary speaker Demetris Syllouris also reiterated their condemnation of a maritime border agreement that Turkey signed with Libya’s Tripoli-based government – but which hasn’t been ratified by the Libyan parliament – as a “flagrant violation of international law that’s devoid of any legal basis”.

The Cyprus News Agency reported that Mr Saleh said Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj wasn’t authorised to sign any agreements on his own because any such deal requires unanimous approval from the nine-member presidential council and parliament’s assent.

Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord has been fending off a months-long offensive by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces in eastern Libya.

Speaking through an interpreter, Saleh said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had taken advantage of the divisions within Libya, as well as Tripoli’s control by “terrorist groups”, to get the agreements approved.

Mr Saleh said President Erdogan’s aim was “to provoke countries in the eastern Mediterranean and to interfere in their exclusive economic zones without taking account these countries’ sovereign rights at sea and in the air”.

A senior Cypriot government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Mr Saleh asked European Union member Cyprus to convey to the 28-member bloc that deployment of Turkish forces in his country would destabilise the entire region.

On a surprise visit to Tunisia earlier this week, Mr Erdogan reiterated that his county would evaluate sending soldiers to Libya if there is an invitation from Tripoli, where Mr Sarraj’s United Nations-supported but weak administration is based.

Turkey has signed maritime and agreements with the Libyan government that controls Tripoli and some of the country’s west.

The military deal allows Ankara to provide military experts and personnel, along with weapons, despite a UN arms embargo.

Turkey contends the maritime agreement gives it economic rights to a swathe of the eastern Mediterranean sea. Greece, Cyprus and Egypt have denounced the deal as legally invalid as it encroaches on their maritime borders.

In Rome, asked about possible Turkish military action in Libya in support of Mr Sarraj’s forces, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he had discouraged any attempt at a military solution for Libya.

Mr Conte, who discussed Libya with Erdogan in a phone call last week, told reporters on Saturday that further conflict in the North African country, across the Mediterranean from Italy, would only aggravate the “incredible fragmentation” there.

“I implored Turkish President Erdogan” against military involvement, Mr Conte said.

Mr Conte called for stepped-up diplomatic pressure for a political solution, and said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio might soon return to Libya to work for a “cessation of hostilities”.