Erdogan criticizes EU move to enforce arms embargo on Libya

Erdogan criticizes EU move to enforce arms embargo on Libya
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a Pakistan-Turkey business forum, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Erdogan is in Pakistan for a two-day state visit. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday criticized the European Union’s decision to launch a new maritime effort focused on enforcing the U.N arms embargo around Libya, accusing European nations that agreed to launch the new operation of “interfering in the region.”

Erdogan also hailed a decision by Libya’s U.N.-supported government to withdraw from talks with rivals following an attack on the sea port of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

EU foreign ministers had agreed earlier this week to end Operation Sophia, the bloc’s naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea, and launch a new maritime effort focused more on the implementation of the U.N. arms embargo around Libya.

Operation Sophia was set up in 2015 as tens of thousands of migrants headed across the sea from North Africa to Europe. Its aim was to crack down on migrant smugglers, but also to enforce the arms embargo, which is routinely being flouted.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said several European countries had offered to take part in the new operation.

“I want to specifically mention that the EU does not have the right to make any decision concerning Libya,” Erdogan said. “The EU is trying to take charge of the situation and interfere.”

“You have no such authority,” Erdogan said, addressing the EU. He made the comments during a speech to legislators from his ruling party in Parliament.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. Relentless turmoil subsequently engulfed the oil-rich country, which is now split between rival governments based in its east and west, each backed by an array of foreign countries apparently jockeying for influence in order to control Libya’s resources.

The U.N.-supported government in Tripoli backed by Turkey and Qatar. On the other side are eastern-based forces of commander Khalifa Hifter, which rely on military assistance from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia.

Fighting between the country’s factions has intensified over the past year. Recently, Ankara sent hundreds of Syrian fighters, including militants affiliated with groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, to fight on behalf of the Tripoli-based government to defend the city from Hifter’s offensive.

The Turkish leader also voiced support to Tuesday’s decision by the Tripoli-based government to suspend its participation in U.N.-brokered talks in Geneva, following an attack by Hifter forces on the city’s port.

“At the moment, the legitimate government based in Tripoli has withdrawn from the (negotiating) table and this is a positive decision, it is a rightful decision, it is the right decision,” Erdogan said.

He added that Turkey would continue the Tripoli-based government to “establish dominance” over the whole of the country.

Hifter’s forces claimed they hit a weapons and ammunition depot at the port on Tuesday “in order to weaken the combat capabilities of the mercenaries who arrived from Syria” to fight alongside Tripoli-based militias.

The Geneva talks between Libya’s warring sides had resumed earlier on Tuesday in a bid to salvage a fragile cease-fire in the North African nation. The current cease-fire was brokered by Russia and Turkey on Jan. 12 to deescalate the fight for control of Tripoli, but both sides have repeatedly violated the truce.

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Magdy reported from Cairo.