TRIPOLI: Libyan mourners offer condolences to each other during the funeral of army cadets, who were killed in an air strike on a military school, in the Martyrs Square of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Sunday. At least 28 people were killed and dozens injured on Saturday in an air strike on a military school in the Libyan capital Tripoli.-AFP

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said Turkish soldiers had begun deploying to Libya after parliament approved such a move last week. “Our soldiers’ duty there is coordination. They will develop the operation center there. Our soldiers are gradually going right now,” he told CNN Turk broadcaster during an interview.

The Turkish parliament passed a bill allowing the government to send troops to Libya aimed at shoring up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli. The Tripoli government has come under sustained attack since military strongman general Khalifa Haftar launched his offensive in April.

Haftar is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while the UN-backed government has the support of Ankara and its ally Qatar. Erdogan said Turkey’s objective was “not to fight”, but “to support the legitimate government and avoid a humanitarian tragedy”. He added that Turkey would not be deploying its own combat forces. “Right now, we will have different units serving as a combatant force,” he said, without giving details on who the fighters would be and where they would come from. Senior Turkish military personnel would coordinate the “fighting force”, Erdogan explained, sharing their experience and information to support Tripoli.

Turkey’s move comes after the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord made a formal request for military support. Libya and Turkey signed security and maritime agreements in November last year, angering Mediterranean countries including Greece and Cyprus who also seek to exploit energy resources in the region.

The European Union’s top diplomat meanwhile warned yesterday that more intense fighting could be about to break out around the Libyan capital Tripoli, calling for a political solution to the crisis. “Recent developments in Libya indicate that an escalation of violence around Tripoli could be imminent,” said the EU high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell. The UN Security Council was to meet later on the situation in Libya, where Turkish troops have begun deploying to protect the UN-recognized government from the forces of military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

“Today it is more urgent than ever to work genuinely towards a political solution to the crisis in Libya,” he said. “The European Union calls on all sides to engage in a political process under the leadership of the United Nations. The European Union will continue to deploy all efforts towards finding a peaceful and political solution to this process.”

The North African country was plunged into chaos with the killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. It is now divided between the GNA and rival authorities based in the country’s east. More than 280 civilians and more than 2,000 fighters have been killed since the start of Haftar’s assault on Tripoli, according to the United Nations. The fighting has displaced some 146,000 people.

Egypt announced yesterday that it will hold a meeting with four European Mediterranean countries about developments in neighboring Libya after Turkey began deploying troops in the war-torn North African nation. The talks-to be held in Cairo tomorrow-will bring together foreign ministers from France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, Egypt’s foreign ministry said. The ministers will tackle the “rapid developments” in Libya and “ways to push efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement” between rival administrations there, a statement said.

Libya has seen an escalation of the turmoil that has gripped the oil-rich country since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia back strongman general Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive in April to capture Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). – AFP