Turkey, France in war of words over Libya

Turkey, France trade barbs over Libya as Ankara blames Paris for the country's turmoil
3 min read
30 January, 2020
In the latest sign of deteriorating relations between Turkey and France, President Emmanuel Macron accused his Turkish counterpart of failing to keep his word.
Erdogan implied Macron was 'brain dead' last year [Getty]

Turkey and France descended into a war of words over Libya on Wednesday, with Ankara hitting back at French President Emmanuel Macron who accused his Turkish counterpart of failing to "keep his word" to end interference in the country.

Ankara returned fire, slamming Paris as "the main [actor] responsible for the problems in Libya since the crisis started".

"It's no secret that this country has given unconditional support to [rogue general Khalifa] Haftar in order to have a say regarding natural resources in Libya," Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.

Macron had claimed earlier on Wednesday that Turkish ships accompanying Syrian mercenaries arrived on Libyan territory in recent days.

Ankara has been accused of recruiting more than 2,000 Syrian rebels to fight on behalf of Libya's internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which Turkey backs against warlord Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

Earlier Wednesday, the Turkish military said four frigates and a refuelling vessel were in the central Mediterranean, outside Libya's territorial waters, to support NATO operations in the region while also conducting activities to ensure the security of maritime trade routes.

The French leader said the action was a "clear violation" of what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised at a Berlin conference where world leaders vowed to stay out of the Libyan conflict earlier this month. 

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"It is a failure to keep his word," Macron said.

But Aksoy hit back, claiming the French president "was once again trying to set the agenda with fanciful claims".

Haftar launches an assault in April last year to seize Tripoli from the UN-back government. The strongman has the support of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, countries with whom Turkey's relations are tense.

While France publicly supports the Tripoli-based government led by Fayez al-Sarraj, it is considered a key backer of Haftar, having cultivated strong relations with the rogue general.

France's support alongside other countries giving military assistance to Haftar who is attacking "the legitimate government" is "the most serious threat to Libya's territorial integrity and sovereignty", Aksoy said.

Read more: Berlin Conference: Breakthrough for Libya, or more of the same?

"If France wants to contribute to decisions of the [Berlin] conference being applied, it should first end its support for Haftar," he added.

Macron also described a maritime deal between Turkey and Libya's UN-backed government as a "void document" with no legal or political standing.

The pact signed late last year grants Turkey rights to large swathes of the eastern Mediterranean, for which Ankara has said it will begin offering licenses for oil and gas exploration and drilling later this year.

The deal has been widely condemned by the international community, particularly neighbouring countries Greece, Cyprus and Egypt who see the areas earmarked for exploration by Turkey as rightfully theirs.

"France supports Greece and Cyprus with regards to the sovereignty in their maritime zones and, along with our European partners, condemns Turkey's intrusions and provocations," Macron said.

"I must reiterate that the prerequisite for any political solution in Libya is the cancellation of this document," he added. Cancellation of the agreement is also a key demand by Greece for supporting peace efforts.

Ties between Paris and Ankara are increasingly strained over multiple issues including Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

When Macron declared NATO "brain dead" last year, Erdogan implied the French leader was "in a state of brain death".

Aksoy in his statement also accused France of welcoming "terrorists who threaten Syria's territorial integrity" to the Elysee in a reference to Syrian Kurdish officials meeting Macron last year.

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