NATO to probe France-Turkey Med naval incident

BRUSSELS (AP) - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the military alliance will investigate an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval ship in the Mediterranean as France has accused Turkey of repeated violations of the United Nations arms embargo against the conflict-torn Libya and referred to Ankara as an obstacle to securing a ceasefire.
According to a French defense official, the Courbet frigate was "illuminated" three times by the Turkish naval target radar as it attempted to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of being involved in the arms trade. The Courbet withdrew after being targeted.
The French ship was part of NATO's Mediterranean marine operation, Sea Guardian, at the time of the June 10 incident.
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The civilian ship was escorted by three Turkish warships, the official said. France claims that such behavior is considered a hostile act under NATO deployment rules. Turkey has denied harassing the Courbet.
"We have made sure that NATO military authorities investigate the incident to get complete clarity on what happened," Stoltenberg told reporters after hosting a video meeting between NATO defense ministers where several participants raised the issue had.
"I think that's the best way to deal with it now and to clarify what actually happened," he added.
In a statement before the meeting, the French foreign ministry aimed at Ankara and said: "The main obstacle to the creation of peace and stability in Libya today is the systematic violation of the UN arms embargo, particularly by Turkey's commitments made in Berlin." Earlier this year.
The European Union has launched a naval operation in the Mediterranean to help enforce the embargo, but Turkey, a NATO member whose efforts to join the EU has stalled, suspects that it is too one-sided and is international recognized Libyan government is concentrated in Tripoli, which supports Turkey.
When asked whether the 30 members of the military alliance should respect the arms embargo, Stoltenberg said: "Of course, NATO supports the implementation of U.N. decisions, including U.N. arms embargoes."
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising overthrew leader Moammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since been divided between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by armed groups and various foreign governments.
The Tripoli government, led by Fayez Sarraj, is supported not only by Turkey, which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January, but also by Italy and Qatar. Rival forces led by Khalifa Hifter, who launched an offensive against Tripoli last year, are supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other major Arab countries.
"Turkey's support for the government's offensive to the national agreement is in direct conflict with the ceasefire efforts we support," said the French ministry. "This support is exacerbated by the hostile and unacceptable actions by the Turkish Naval Forces against NATO allies aimed at undermining efforts to maintain the United States' arms embargo."
"This behavior must stop like any foreign interference in the Libyan conflict," it warned.
EU foreign policy official Josep Borrell is trying to secure NATO support for Europe's own naval effort, Operation Irini, partly to avoid such incidents in the future, but diplomats and officials have said that Turkey is likely to block such a move .
Borrell, who attended the NATO video meeting, said on Wednesday that he hoped that an EU-NATO cooperation agreement could be concluded shortly because support for the enforcement of the arms embargo was in the security interests of both organizations.
When asked on Wednesday what the answer might be, Stoltenberg said: “We are considering possible support, possible cooperation, but no decision has been made. There are dialogues, contacts that address this as we speak. "
Borrell highlighted some of the challenges facing the EU's naval operation. He said his staff tried to contact a "suspect" Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship that was escorted by two Turkish warships last week. He said the ship refused to respond, but its Turkish escorts said the cargo was medical equipment for Libya.
The EU operation tried to check the information with the Turkish and Tanzanian authorities and reported the incident to the United Nations, but nothing more could be done, he said.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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