French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Turkey of massively importing jihadists into Libya in a “criminal” intervention by “a country which claims to be a Nato member”.
He also took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambivalence towards mercenaries from his country operating in the conflict-torn North African state.
Ties between Nato allies France and Turkey have descended into bitterness in recent weeks over Ankara’s role in the Libya conflict, Turkish actions in northern Syria, threats by the Turks to unleash waves of migrants on the European Union and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean which Brussels says infringes the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.
Macron has in recent weeks become increasingly outspoken about Turkey’s part in the Libya conflict since it became clear Turkish drone support and weapons, as well as the transferring to Libya of Syrian militia fighters allied with Turkey, have helped the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli turn the tide in its civil war with eastern military leader Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA).
“I think it’s a historic and criminal responsibility for a country which claims to be a Nato member,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Turkey has hit back at Macron, saying he has suffered an “eclipse of the mind” because Ankara’s policy on North Africa hinders France’s designs on the region.
Unwelcome prospect of air bases
European countries bordering the Mediterranean would almost certainly object to the outcome of the Libyan conflict leaving Libya home to Turkish and/or Russian air bases. The EU, meanwhile, has grown frustrated by the actions of Turkey’s Erdogan regime in recent years on a number of fronts. There is no hope of Turkey’s application to join the EU progressing in the foreseeable future. France on June 24 called on its partners in the bloc to hold urgent talks on the EU’s future relations with Turkey.
Without providing any evidence on the identity of the fighters Ankara was relocating to Libya, he said Turkey was “massively importing” jihadists from Syria.
Paris has been accused of supporting Haftar politically, having previously given him military assistance to fight Islamist militants. France denies backing Haftar but has stopped short of rebuking his allies, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE, like Turkey, has been accused by the United Nations of violating an arms embargo on Libya.
Haftar’s LNA is backed by the UAE, Egypt and Russia. In recent weeks, French officials have repeatedly said that Turkey’s intervention was encouraging Russia to gain a greater foothold in Libya.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation said on June 26 that Russian mercenaries had entered the Sharara oilfield, Reuters reported. A UN report in May said Russian private military contractor Wagner Group had up to 1,200 people deployed in Libya.
On June 29, Macron said Putin had told him that private contractors did not represent Russia.
“I told him of my very clear condemnation of the actions which are carried out by the Wagner force... he plays on this ambivalence.”