Haftar's forces release six Turkish detainees in Libya: Turkey FM

Khalifa Haftar's forces release Turkish citizens detained in Libya after threat of military retaliation.

    Haftar's forces accuse Turkey of providing air cover for the rival military of the internationally recognised government in Tripoli [File: Esam Omran al-Fetori/Reuters]
    Haftar's forces accuse Turkey of providing air cover for the rival military of the internationally recognised government in Tripoli [File: Esam Omran al-Fetori/Reuters]

    Six Turkish citizens detained in Libya by forces loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar have been released, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

    The announcement came on Monday, a day after Turkey threatened the eastern Libyan militia with military retaliation, saying they faced becoming a "legitimate target".

    Al Jazeera's Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said the men, who were released at the Sidr airport in Ajdabiya city, south of Benghazi, worked on a ship owned by a Libyan citizen.

    "The sailors will not be coming back to Turkey, they will continue working over there. So everything seems to be all right. Also, defence ministry sources underlined that there were no military persons among those six people, contradicting pro-Haftar media," she said.

    "There was backdoor diplomacy going on with Turkey through local tribal leaders. Ankara made sure that Haftar's side was given 72 hours to release the Turkish citizens. There have also been three security meetings in Ankara since this incident happened. Turkey was preparing for any scenario," she added.

    Tough talk 

    Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said the tough talk seemed to have worked well.

    "The spokesman of Haftar's forces, Colonel Ahmed al-Mismari, earlier said they were detaining all Turkish nationals in Libya. But last night [Sunday], he retreated saying he does not have any knowledge of the detention of the Turkish nationals," he said.

    "Today, we are getting information from the security sources with Haftar in the city of Ajdabiya confirming the release of the Turkish nationals," he added.

    He also said Haftar's forces were accusing Turkey of providing air coverage for the rival military of the internationally recognised government in Tripoli.

    "[The anti-Turkish sentiments have grown] especially after Haftar lost the strategic town of Gharyan, south of Tripoli, which is considered a major setback for his troops fighting the government forces in the west of the country."

    Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) launched a campaign on April 4 to seize the Libyan capital, but has been pushed back by the government forces.

    On Monday, LNA Commander Mohamed Manfour announced the beginning of a new aerial bombardment campaign after "traditional means" to "liberate Tripoli" had been exhausted.   

    Rival governments

    Libya has had two rival governments over the last few years.

    The United Nations-recognised administration led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is based in Tripoli.

    Turkey, as well as most Western nations, supports the Sarraj government. That includes Italy, which is worried that the fighting near Tripoli will force more migrants to cross the Mediterranean.

    Ankara says its involvement in Libya is aimed at promoting "regional peace and stability".

    In the east, there is the Tobruk-based government, the centre of power for Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

    France is also accused of providing military support to his forces.

    Haftar and his backers say they are trying to free Tripoli from militias that they accuse of destabilising Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

    Haftar's eastern administration cut all ties with Turkey on Friday, threatening to target Turkish interests in Libya, including airline flights and shipping.

    Haftar's critics, including Turkey, accuse him of trying to seize power from the legitimate government through force, and deepening the conflict between the factions based in the east and west of the sprawling North African country.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies