Haftar the ‘only problem’ thwarting Libya peace: Turkey

Turkey said Wednesday Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar is the only obstacle to a peace deal for the North African country, defending Ankara’s controversial cooperation with Moscow to end conflicts in Libya and Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolgu told the World Economic Forum in Davos that Ankara was working with Russia in both Syria and Libya since Moscow was a key actor and attempts to find progress with Europe had failed.

Turkey backs the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez al-Sarraj based in Tripoli while analysts see Moscow as a supporter of the eastern-based Haftar, whose forces last April launched a bid to seize Tripoli.

A peace conference in Berlin this month agreed a new push for peace — but without the two protagonists meeting — and Haftar also did not sign onto a ceasefire deal when both were in Moscow.

“Together with Russia — unfortunately we could not manage this with our EU partners, as with Syria — we spent some efforts and there has been a ceasefire,” said Cavusolgu.

“Then we got together in Berlin and we committed there to a sustainable truce and ceasefire. Sarraj did. But Haftar did not make any announcement, as he did not sign the joint statement in Moscow.”

“This is the only problem,” he said.

– ‘Doesn’t want to share power’ –

Turkey has sent troops to Libya in a deployment that has disturbed its Western allies. But Cavusoglu insisted they were only limited in numbers and not there to fight.

“Our personnel is there for training and education, nothing else. We do not have a strong military presence in Libya,” he said.

He argued that there was no alternative to working with Russia, which according to Cavusoglu had become an “actor” in Libya just as it had “filled the vacuum” with its intervention in Syria from 2015.

He said Turkey’s NATO and EU allies had not listened to Turkish warnings several years ago that Russia was interested in entering Libya and also accused some European states of not backing the GNA.

“Some like us only supported Sarraj. But unfortunately France and some European friends supported Haftar. And Haftar unfortunately does not want to share the power,” he said.

Sarraj has also accused Paris of supporting Haftar and tacitly backing his assault on Tripoli, claims denied by French officials.

Cavusoglu insisted there was no problem with Turkey’s intense cooperation with Russia on Libya and Syria, despite being on opposing sides of both conflicts and differences on key issues like Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“We disagree with Russia on some issues, we cooperate on some,” said Cavusoglu.