France’s president has accused Turkey of importing large numbers of fighters into Libya, labelling Ankara’s intervention “criminal”.
Emmanuel Macron also lambasted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambivalence towards his country’s mercenaries operating in the oil-rich North African state.
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Turkey has recently intervened decisively in Libya, providing air support, weapons, and allied fighters from Syria to help the internationally recognised government based in Tripoli repel a 14-month assault by renegade eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
“I think it is a historic and criminal responsibility for a country which claims to be a NATO member,” Macron said on Monday of Turkey’s role in Libya.
Without providing any evidence on the nature of the fighters, he said Turkey was “massively importing” them from Syria.
‘Dragging Libya into chaos’
Last week, Turkey heavily criticised France, saying Paris aims to restore “old colonial rule” in the North African country.
“Due to the support it has given to illegitimate structures for years, France has an important responsibility in dragging Libya into chaos,” foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said.
“The people of Libya will never forget the damage France has inflicted on this country.”
Macron denied backing Haftar’s east-based forces, saying France is in favour of finding a “political solution”.
Ties between NATO allies France and Turkey have soured in recent weeks over Libya, northern Syria, and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions escalated following a June 10 incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean Sea, which France considers a hostile act under NATO’s rules of engagement.
Turkey has denied harassing the French frigate.
Paris has been accused of supporting Haftar politically, having previously given him military assistance.
France has long denied backing Haftar but has stopped short of rebuking his allies, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has also been singled out by the United Nations for violating an arms embargo in Libya.
Battle for Sirte
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) is backed by the UAE, Egypt and Russia. In recent weeks, French officials have repeatedly said Turkey’s intervention was allowing Russia to gain a greater foothold in Libya.
Thousands of Russian mercenaries, along with fighters from Sudan and Chad are reportedly on the way to the strategic city of Sirte, as the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) moves to take the city.
Haftar-allied forces released a video showing military reinforcements being deployed from Benghazi, where the eastern forces are based, towards Sirte, 570km (354 miles) to the west.
The reinforcements included Sudanese and Chadian fighters, as well as more than 3,000 Russian mercenaries, sources told Al Jazeera.
The GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, announced it was determined to end “the occupation” of the cities of Sirte and Jufra by foreign fighters.
Control of Sirte also means control over the crucial ports to export Libya’s vast oil wealth.
Macron spoke to Putin on Friday but stopped short of denouncing Moscow as he has with Ankara. He said the two leaders agreed to work towards the common goal of a ceasefire in Libya.
On Monday, Macron said Putin had told him that private contractors fighting in Libya 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,” the French president said.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed.
The country has mostly been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and different foreign governments.