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‘Without Turkey, Libya would have plunged into chaos,’ says Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu
Ankara, which firmly supports Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Libya's Fayez al-Sarraj, is playing a major role in the country's conflict. Our exclusive interview with Turkey's foreign affairs minister.
In January 2020, Turkey sent forces to help the GNA counter Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli. The rebel leader had the support of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia. The Turkish help turned the tide into the GNA’s favour, and the opposing parties signed a ceasefire on 23 October 2020.
The Ankara government does not intend to walk away. Upon the Turkish presidency’s request, on 22 December parliament approved a resolution extending for 18 months (as of 2 January 2021) the Turkish military mission in Libya.
At the end of a Turkish-Libyan conference held in Antalya (Turkey) in December 2020, The Africa Report interviewed Turkey’s foreign affairs minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu.
The Africa Report: The intra-Libyan dialogue is progressing, but, gathered in Tunis, the negotiators have failed to appoint the members of a transitional government. How would Turkey react if these negotiations fail?
Mevlüt Çavusoglu: Turkey has always underlined that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Libya, and that the political process is the only way out of the crisis. Therefore, we support the ongoing UN-led political process and welcome the decision of the Libyans to conduct elections on 24 December 2021.
If Turkey did not heed the call to support the UN-recognised GNA against Haftar and his backers, Libya would have plunged into chaos. Thanks to our efforts, the tides have turned in Libya, which ultimately helped to pave the way for today’s intra-Libyan talks and the UN-led reconciliation efforts.
Today, there is significant progress on UN-led political dialogue as well as intra-Libyan talks. We appreciate Libyans’ sincere efforts for taking matters into their own hands to accomplish a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political solution.
However, we should not overlook the strong inter-dependency between the progress in the political track and the military situation on the ground. For that reason, the ceasefire must be protected. The mistakes of the past must not be repeated, and any sort of aggression must not be allowed. To that end, we will maintain our support to the intra-Libyan dialogue and continue keeping the window of opportunity open for a viable, inclusive, lasting and peaceful political settlement.
Aren’t the mercenaries – the Russian Wagner Group on the one hand and the Syrian mercenaries from Idlib that Turkey has sent to Libya on the other hand – hampering the peace process in Libya?
Turkey recognises the need for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed groups [in a national army], security sector reform and to establish an inclusive, civilian-led security architecture. In this regard, we are supporting and assisting the UN-recognised legitimate government in Libya. Turkey is also one of the co-chairs of the Security Working Group established by the Berlin Conference’s conclusions.
There is no doubt that the mercenary problem requires a comprehensive approach. However, first and foremost, the concerns and the distrust of the GNA towards Haftar, his militia and aligned foreign mercenaries must be accommodated. Even, on 6 December 2020, Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army attempted to capture Tindi Camp in Ubari, violating the Geneva ceasefire agreement reached on 23 October 2020.
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The inaction of the international community in the face of Haftar’s military operation against the legitimate government of Libya has served as no more than a license for him to continue his brutal aggression. During the course of his aggression, after occupying military bases, Haftar handed them over to foreign forces (the UAE and Egypt) or to mercenaries (the Russian Wagner Group). Today, these military bases do not serve to the interests of the Libyan people.
The Libyan crisis was and (hopefully) still is a litmus test for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) ability to manage crises in its immediate vicinity. We keep telling our counterparts within NATO that the alliance should start to assess the ways to assist Libya in the area of defence and security institution building.
How do you work with Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the Libyan issue ?
We have strong ties with North African countries. Due to their proximity to Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia were among the worst-affected countries from the ceaseless military conflict and rising terrorism. We always emphasised that these countries have key roles to play in solving the Libyan crisis.
That’s the reason why we insisted our European interlocutors include Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia into the Berlin Conference process. Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune participated in the Berlin talks and intensified his diplomatic visits to promote a peaceful solution in Libya.
Libya’s neighbours were aware of the cost of instability, therefore they were nothing but constructive during the Libyan crisis. Instead of supporting illegitimate proxies, they have always underlined their support to the UN-recognised legitimate government.
Morocco not only hosted several meetings between the representatives of High Council of State and House of Representatives in Bouznika and Tangiers, but it also worked hard to end the division in the House of Representatives.
Tunisia hosted the first session of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. We are supporting the constructive efforts of these three countries in the Libyan conflict. We are also willing to cooperate with them to rebuild war-torn Libyan cities after the end of the crisis.
The ceasefire agreement stipulates that foreign countries have to stop providing military training to Libyan factions. But the Turkish armed forces are still training the Libyan army. Isn’t that a problem?
Turkey’s military training and counselling activities are based on the memorandum of understanding that we have signed [in November 2019] on a bilateral basis with the UN-recognised legitimate government of Libya. Our training programmes are helping Libyans to build a regular army, reforming their security sector and to increase their capacity in combating threats targeting Libya’s territorial integrity and stability.
This is in line with Berlin Conference conclusions and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. I should remind you that relevant UN Security Council resolutions urge the members of the international community to support GNA as the sole legitimate government of Libya.
In November 2019, Turkey and Libya also signed a deal delimitating their Mediterranean maritime borders. Would this agreement survive a regime change in Libya ?
The GNA repeatedly stated that the signing of such agreements comes from its legitimate sovereign right and is compatible with international law.
What does Turkey propose to settle its disputes on its maritime borders with Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and Israel ?
We are ready to talk to all littoral countries we have diplomatic relations with [not including Greek Cyprus]. We concluded a maritime delimitation memorandum of understanding with Libya through negotiations.
However, Greece does not want to engage with us. Nor the Greek Cypriots with the Turkish Cypriots. Quite to the contrary, they enter into mechanisms targeting Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. We have suggested a regional conference in the eastern Mediterranean as a step towards a lasting and peaceful settlement in the Mare Nostrum.