BENGHAZI: Libyan deputies voted yesterday for a break in diplomatic relations with Turkey over its controversial agreements with the UN-recognized government that is contested inside the North African country.
At an emergency meeting in the eastern city of Benghazi, parliament also urged the international community to withdraw recognition of the Government of National Accord (GNA) which MPs accused of “high treason” because of the maritime and military deals it signed with Ankara in November clearing the way for a Turkish military intervention on its side.
Parliament speaker Abdallah Bleheq said MPs voted “unanimously” to scrap the accords, which they likened to “a return of colonialism”, and to sever ties with Ankara. The parliament, which was elected in 2014 and took refuge in eastern Libya, has been weakened by divisions within its ranks and the departure of around 40 members to Tripoli, the GNA-controlled capital.
Yesterday’s meeting fell short of the required quorum, according to pro-GNA media, but there was no independent verification of the number of MPs who took part. The parliament is allied with military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is at war with the GNA that is headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj.
Turkish lawmakers last Thursday approved military deployment in support of the GNA, which has been hit by a Haftar offensive against Tripoli since early April. According to interior minister Fathi Bachagha, the agreements with Turkey were concluded “legally and openly”, unlike deals between Haftar’s forces and his foreign supporters.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which have tense or limited ties with Turkey, support Haftar. The UN’s Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, has said Russian mercenaries are operating on the ground on the side of Haftar and has accused several countries of violating a UN arms embargo on Libya. Libya was plunged into chaos with the toppling and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. It has since become divided between the GNA and rival authorities based in the country’s east.
Flights were suspended at the only functioning airport in Libya’s capital Tripoli on Friday because of rocket fire and shelling, as people in eastern Libya protested Turkish military support for their rivals. The GNA has sought Turkey’s support as it fends off an offensive by General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, which control the east and swept through southern Libya in early 2019.
Haftar’s forces said they had carried out air strikes in several places on Friday, including south of the city of Sirte and in Tripoli. Sirte lies in the center of Libya’s coastline, on the dividing line between the warring factions. An increase in air strikes and shelling in and around Tripoli has caused the deaths of at least 11 civilians since early December and shut down health facilities and schools, the UN mission in Libya said.
Haftar’s Tripoli offensive quickly stalled in the outskirts of the city, but led to increased international involvement in the conflict. Turkey has backed the GNA while Haftar has received support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan. Russian military contractors have also been deployed with Haftar’s Libyan National Army for several months, diplomats and analysts said.
There were protests in several cities and towns in eastern Libya against the Turkish parliament’s decision. In Benghazi, where about 3,000 people took to the streets, protesters said they had turned out to oppose a Turkish “invasion” of Libya, which was part of the Ottoman Empire before coming under Italian occupation. Haftar later gave a televised speech in which he announced a “call to arms and mass mobilization … to defend our land and our honor”.
Three subsidiaries of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) which operate in areas under Haftar’s control – Ras Lanuf Oil and Gas Company, Sirte Oil Co and Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO) – said they would boycott Turkish companies.
An engineer from Ras Lanuf said one Turkish company had been doing contracting work at Ras Lanuf port since 2017.
It was unclear what immediate impact the companies’ statements would have. Mitiga airport has been repeatedly closed and reopened in recent years because of risks from shelling and air strikes, reopening most recently on Dec. 12 after a closure of nearly 3-1/2 months. It closed early on Friday because of rocket fire nearby, reopened briefly and then shut again because of shelling, airport and airline officials said.
AU slams interference
African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat has expressed his grave concern over potential “interference” in Libya, after Turkey approved the deployment of troops to the conflict-torn North African nation. Turkish lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill approving a military deployment in Libya to shore up the UN-backed government in Tripoli, which has been under sustained attack since April from a rival administration in the east of the country. Faki said in a statement late Friday he was “deeply concerned at the deterioration of the situation in Libya and the continuing suffering of the Libyan people.”
“The various threats of political and military interference in the internal affairs of the country increase the risk of a confrontation, whose motives have nothing to do with the fundamental interests of the Libyan people and their aspirations for freedom, peace, democracy and development,” read the statement. – Agencies