Turkish defence minister in Libya to discuss cooperation
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar made a surprise trip to Libya on Saturday, two days after the powerful Khalifa Haftar urged his fighters to evict Turkish forces from the oil-rich country.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said Akar will inspect Turkish forces in Libya during the visit, while Libyan officials said talks would focus on Tripoli-Ankara military cooperation.
Turkey has supported the Tripoli-based United Nations-recognized government of the National Agreement (GNA) with military advisors, material and mercenaries against an offensive by Haftar, who is based in the east.
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Ankara also has a large military base in the Al-Watiya region on the Libyan border with Tunisia.
Akar's visit to Tripoli also came after the Turkish parliament this week approved a motion to extend the deployment of armed forces in Libya by 18 months.
After landing in the Libyan capital, Akar held talks with his counterpart Salah Eddine Namrouch and then met Khaled el-Mechri, who heads the GNA-compliant High State Council, according to a statement from the HSC.
Turkish and Libyan officials agreed during the talks to "continue their coordination to repel any hostile action by Haftar that could destabilize Libya," the statement added.
Turkish support for the GNA helped fend off the Haftar offensive in April 2019, which is supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
- 'New Blood' -
During a speech on Thursday, Haftar said there would be "no peace in the presence of a colonizer on our land" and urged his armed forces to "get ready".
"We will therefore again take up arms to build our peace with our own hands ... and as Turkey rejects peace and chooses to go to war, we are preparing to drive out the occupiers by faith, will and weapons ", he said.
Libya was plunged into chaos after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising fell and longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi was killed.
The violence-ridden North African country has since been a battlefield for tribal militias, jihadists and mercenaries, and an important gateway for desperate migrants traveling to Europe.
Two rival camps are now vying for power, and a Haftar-backed government in the east is taking on the Tripoli-based GNA.
In October the two sides signed a ceasefire agreement that has been widely recognized and that creates the conditions for elections at the end of next year.
On Saturday, the GNA Defense Minister Namrouch told local media that Libya was keen to build a military institution that respected international norms.
"The Turks helped the GNA, and we thank them for it. But now we want to reorganize the Libyan army and inject their new blood," he said.
Later on Saturday, Akar is expected to attend a graduation ceremony in Tripoli for military cadets trained in Turkey as part of the GNA collaboration, Libyan Defense Ministry sources told AFP.
fo-rb / hkb / sw
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