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Libyan Foreign Minister Urges Turkey to Withdraw Fighters

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Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at the podium with Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Atiya Abdul Hafeez Al-Qatrani following their meeting in March. Credit: Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs

On Monday, the Foreign Minister of Libya, Najla al-Manqoush, called for the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries from its soil as it looks forward to the elections that will take place later this year.

The foreign minister of Libya’s interim government specifically urged the nation of Turkey to implement UN Security Council resolutions which demand the return of more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya after its protracted civil unrest.

Al-Manquosh’s remarks were made at a joint news conference she held for the press with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The Turkish FM had visited Tripoli along with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and other top military and intelligence officials from that country.

Libya rebuke to Turkey

The Libyan FM stated “We call on (Turkey) to take steps to implement all the provisions of … the Security Council resolutions and to cooperate together to expel all foreign forces and mercenaries from the Libyan territories.”

Especially since they were delivered at a joint press conference, the remarks were viewed as a rebuke to Turkey, which has deployed not only its own troops but Syrian mercenaries as well to fight alongside militia forces from Tripoli since military commander Khalifa Hifter launched his attack on the Libyan capital in 2019.

The exchange remained prickly as Cavusoglu retorted, saying Turkish forces were in Libya only as part of the “training agreement” that had been reached with a previous administration in Libya.

“There are those who equate our legal presence … with the foreign mercenary groups that fight in this country for money,” Cavusoglu stated.

Turkey  has been involved in the ongoing Libyan conflict for years, backing the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord based out of Tripoli, which is in control of the west, against the forces under the leadership of Hifter. Turkey is known to have sent not only military materiel but also fighters to Libya, which has tilted the balance of power in favor of the government in control in Tripoli.

Maritime boundary agreement sparked protests

It was these two parties, the sitting government in Tripoli and Turkish officials, who signed the controversial maritime boundary agreement which purports to delineate the sea borders between the two countries in the Mediterranean.

The signing of the document sparked widespread protests in both Greece and Cyprus, as their officials decried it as a serious breach of international law which did not take into consideration any of the rights of other countries across theMediterranean.

The northern African state has been in a state of upheaval ever since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising ousted and killed toppled longtime Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Since that time, the country, once the headquarters of oil and gas firms, split in two by warlords, each in charge of certain areas and with dueling administrations and armed forces under each strongman.

The interim government, which officially came into power in March, Libya’s interim government, which took power in March, has stated its intention is to unite a country that has not seen peace in a decade. Libya has slated a general election to take place on December 24 of this year.

Diplomats from the UN Security Council diplomats have stated that they believe there are in excess of 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in the country at present; these are said to include 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese fighters, along with Russian and Chadian soldiers.

On April 14, Greece and Libya agreed to hold talks on marking out their maritime zones in the Mediterranean, according to statement made by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis after an Athens meeting with the president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed al-Menfi.

Mitsotakis stated that the two leaders “agreed on the immediate resumption of talks between Greece and Libya on the delimitation of the maritime zones.”

Greece is piling on pressure on the interim government of Libya to scrap the 2019 agreement with Turkey on maritime zones.

In his first official visit to Tripoli earier in the month, Mitsotakis called on Libya to annul the deal. “It is very important (for bilateral relations), the annulment of illegal documents,” he had said.

In Wednesday’s meeting with al-Menfi, Mitsotakis also stressed that a prerequisite for holding elections so that “the Libyan people themselves can take the country’s fate into their own hands” is the withdrawal of all troops from Libya.

Last week, an informal meeting of the Security Council’s fifteen member countries agreed that somehow persuading the foreign fighters and mercenaries now on Libyan soil to go home was the only way out of the present situation.

These remarks were made by officials at the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity. On Monday, Turkish FM Cavusoglu Tweeted a post stating that he had met with UN Special Envoy Jan Kubis, saying only that he “emphasized our strong support for the political process” in Libya.

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