Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has criticised Germany for joining a European Union marine mission to supervise the Libyan arms embargo, calling it “a wrong step”.
On Tuesday, Germany dispatched a frigate carrying 250 soldiers for a five-month mission as part of the EU’s Irini mission to enforce a United Nations arms embargo on Libya.
In January, Germany hosted an international conference in Berlin where a number of countries agreed to uphold the weapons embargo. This, however, has been repeatedly violated.
“Irini is a biased operation … Germany is the host of the Berlin conference; therefore it needs to be neutral and objective,” Cavusoglu told Turkish state news agency Anadolu in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Thursday.
“If it [Germany] takes part in a biased operation, it will lose its impartiality,” he added.
Irini, launched in May, is tasked with preventing the flow of weapons into war-torn Libya as well as gathering information on illegal oil exports from the country and disrupting people smuggling in the region.
Oil-rich Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by militias and foreign governments.
While the Tripoli-based and internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) is supported by Turkey, eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.
Haftar launched an offensive last year to seize Tripoli, but his 14-month campaign collapsed last month when the GNA forces, with Turkish support, gained the upper hand, driving his forces from the outskirts of Tripoli and other western towns.
The GNA’s military success depended partly on Turkish-supplied drones that pushed back Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) from Libya’s skies.
In recent weeks, the GNA forces have pressed towards the strategic city of Sirte, the birthplace of Gaddafi located 450km (280 miles) east of Tripoli. The GNA has pledged to retake the coastal city along with the inland al-Jufra airbase.
Seizing Sirte would open the door for the GNA’s forces to advance even further eastward and potentially take vital oil installations, terminals and fields now under Haftar’s control.
Amid rising tensions, neighbouring Egypt has threatened to send troops into Libya if the Turkish-backed GNA forces try to seize Sirte. Last week, the Egyptian parliament gave a green light for possible military intervention, a potential major escalation that would further destabilise Libya.
Cavusoglu, along with his Maltese counterpart Evarist Bartolo, held talks on Thursday with the GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. The three discussed the latest developments in the Libya crisis and steps for a political solution, Anadolu reported.
“Even if there is no officially declared ceasefire, calm reigns on the ground” for now, Cavusoglu told reporters after the meeting. But “Libya’s problem persists”, he added.
A “durable” ceasefire should mean that the GNA, Libya’s “legitimate government”, is able to spread its control to the east of Tripoli, in areas currently held by Khalifa Haftar’s forces, Cavusoglu said.
Haftar, he added, “still does not believe in a political solution and can attack … Tripoli any time”.