Turkey has criticised France’s remarks on Ankara’s support for the internationally recognised government in Libya, saying Paris aims to restore old colonial rule in the North African country.
The biting comments came days after French President Emmanuel Macron launched a furious verbal attack on Turkey’s conduct in war-ravaged Libya, accusing it of playing a “dangerous game” that can no longer be tolerated.
In an interview on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “France is attempting to divide Libya. It wants to go back to old colonial times.”
The oil-rich country is split between rival administrations in the east and west, with the conflict recently attracting increasing foreign involvement.
Turkey backs the Tripoli-based, UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
France, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia support the eastern-based House of Representatives allied with renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Criticising France’s support for Haftar, Cavusoglu accused Paris of itself playing a “dangerous game” in Libya, saying its role contradicts UN resolutions and its position as a permanent member of the Security Council.
“Many countries have started to take sides with the UN-recognised legitimate government. This is a positive reflection of our cooperation [with the GNA],” he said.
Libya has been torn apart by violence drawing in tribal armed groups and foreign actors since the 2011 toppling and killing of former ruler Muammar Gaddafi in a Western-backed uprising.
Turkey has intervened decisively in Libya after launching Operation Peace Storm in March, providing air support, training and weapons to help the GNA repel a year-long assault by Haftar on the capital, Tripoli.
The GNA has in recent weeks regained control over strategic locations, including Tarhuna, Haftar’s final stronghold in western Libya.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesman accused Macron of “losing reason”.
“Due to the support it has given to illegitimate structures for years, France has an important responsibility in dragging Libya into chaos,” Hami Aksoy said. “The people of Libya will never forget the damage France has inflicted on this country.”
Meanwhile, France on Wednesday demanded a discussion “without taboos” within the EU on its relationship with Turkey, which officially remains a candidate to join the bloc despite a stalled membership process.
Already strained ties between NATO allies France and Turkey have worsened in recent days as the two sides exchanged accusations over the Libya conflict.
Turkey has been seeking to join the European Union for more than half a century, although its bid has faltered in recent years – particularly over the crackdown that followed a 2016 failed coup.
“France considers it essential that the European Union very quickly opens a comprehensive discussion, without taboos and naivety, on the prospects for its future relationship with Ankara,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the French Senate.
“The European Union must firmly defend its own interests because it has the means,” he said.
Returning to the topic of Turkey’s role in Libya, Le Drian said: “Clarifications are needed on the role that Turkey plans to play in Libya.