Turkey says will work with Italy for Libya peace, slams EU

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey and Italy will continue to work for a lasting peace and political solution in Libya, Turkey’s foreign minister said Friday, while slamming the European Union’s naval operation in the Mediterranean that tries to enforce a U.N. arms embargo on the conflict-torn country.

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Mevlut Cavusoglu made the comments during a joint news conference with his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio. Italy and Turkey support the U.N.-backed government that is based in Tripoli against the rival forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter, who is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries.

Turkey says the EU’s naval operation — dubbed Irini — is focusing its efforts on the Tripoli-based administration and not enough on Hifter’s forces who launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture the capital.

“We will continue to work with Italy for a last peace and a solution-oriented political process,” Cavusoglu told reporters, praising Italy for what he described as its “balanced stance” on Libya.

“Operation Irini is not balanced. It has never met any of the (Tripoli-based) Government of National Accord’s requests and concerns,” Cavusoglu said. He maintained that the operation ignores alleged “constant arms transfers to Hifter by France.”

Cavusoglu’s comments come amid growing tensions between Turkey and France over Libya. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the military alliance would investigate an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, as France accused Turkey of repeated violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya and branded Ankara an obstacle to securing a cease-fire there.

Di Maio said neither side in the Libyan conflict should have access to arms, adding that Rome welcomed indications that the sides were willing to negotiate.

He also defended the EU naval operation, describing it as “balanced.”

“The aim is to control the arrival of all armaments,” Di Maio said. “It is not a remedy for all ills, but at least it ensures that the embargo is observed.”

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and different foreign governments.

Turkish military support to the U.N.-backed government has turned the tide in the conflict, driving back Hifter’s forces. Turkey has also sent Syrian militias to fight for the Tripoli government.