Libya’s top diplomat has called for the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from the North African country as it heads towards elections later this year.
Najla al-Manqoush, foreign minister of Libya’s interim government, urged Turkey on Monday to implement UN Security Council resolutions demanding the repatriation of more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya.
“We call on [Turkey] to take steps to implement all the provisions of … the Security Council resolutions and to cooperate together to expel all foreign forces and mercenaries from the Libyan territories,” al-Manqoush said.
Her remarks came at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. He visited Tripoli along with Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and other top military and intelligence officials.
The remarks were seen as a rebuke to Turkey, which has deployed troops and Syrian mercenaries to fight along with Tripoli militias since forces of eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to wrest control of the capital their attack in 2019.
Cavusoglu responded by saying that Turkish forces were in Libya as part of a training agreement that was reached with a previous Libya administration.
“We attach importance to preservation of Libya’s integrity, sovereignty, independence, and political unity,” he said.
“In the face of the attacks on Tripoli, the legitimate government of Libya invited some countries, including us. Only Turkey replied in the affirmative to this call,” he continued, saying there are some parties that sought to equal Ankara’s presence with that of foreign mercenaries that are in Libya for monetary gain.
Turkey has been closely involved in Libya, backing the UN-recognised Government of National Accord based in Tripoli that controlled the west of the country, against the offensive by Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army.
Turkey sent military supplies and fighters to Libya, helping to tilt the balance of power in favour of the Tripoli government.
Turkey also signed an agreement with the Tripoli-based government delineating the maritime boundaries between the two countries in the Mediterranean, triggering protests from Greece and Cyprus.
Both countries denounced the agreement, saying it was a serious breach of international law that disregarded the rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. The oil-rich country was in recent years split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by different armed groups and foreign governments.
Libya’s interim government, which took power in March, is meant to steer Libya through a general election on December 24.
Security Council diplomats have said there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, along with Russians and Chadians.
The United Nations Security Council’s 15 member nations agreed in an informal meeting last week that getting the foreign fighters and mercenaries to go home was the only way forward, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.