Ankara claims arrest of DGSE ‘spies’ as Paris rejects Turkish role in Libya

“Do you think we can let Turkey for a long time import Syrian fighters to Libya given everything we know?”, wondered Macron.

Tuesday 23/06/2020
A 2018 file photo shows French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint press conference, at the Elysee Palace in Paris.  (AFP)
A 2018 file photo shows French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint press conference, at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (AFP)

PARIS - As French President Emanuel Macron is displaying growing impatience with Ankara’s behaviour in Libya, Turkey announced its arrest of four Turkish nationals accusing them of “spying” for France.

According to Sabah daily, a pro-government newspaper, Metin Ozdemir, a former employee of the French consulate’s security service told police he had gathered intelligence for the French intelligence service, the DGSE.

The newspaper claimed that Ozdemir admitted to having delivered information on 120 people in return for monthly payments and the promise of a place in the French Foreign Legion.

The so-called spy ring was said to have gathered information on conservative associations, religious groups and Diyanet, the public body that supervises religious affairs, Sabah reported.

After falling out with his French handlers Ozdemir approached the Turkish authorities, added the newspaper.

There has been no independent confirmation of Sabah’s story met with scepticism by experts especially that it fits a pattern of arrests by Ankara for the purpose of pressuring Western nations, including the US.

The arrests come also at a particular timing marked by heated exchanges between Turkish and French leaders.

President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday France will not tolerate Turkey’s military intervention in Libya,  accusing Ankara of playing “a dangerous game” there.

Turkey has intervened decisively in recent weeks in Libya, providing air support, weapons, Turkish military personnel and thousands of mercenaries from Syria to help the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli.

“I have already had the opportunity to say very clearly to President (Tayyip) Erdogan, I consider that Turkey is playing a dangerous game in Libya today and going against all of its commitments made at the Berlin conference,” Macron said alongside his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied, referring to a peace meeting earlier this year.

“We won’t tolerate the role that Turkey is playing in Libya,” he said.

Turkey’s help appears to have secured Libya’s capital and the west of the country for the Tripoli government against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).

Macron, who spoke earlier on Monday by phone to US President Donald Trump on the crisis in Libya, briefly condemned the role of Russian mercenaries in Libya, but focused mostly on Ankara’s role.

The White House said the two leaders agreed on the urgent need for a cease-fire in Libya and for the rapid resumption of negotiations by the Libyan parties. Trump and Macron reiterated that military escalation on all sides must stop immediately to prevent the Libyan conflict from becoming even more intractable.

Tensions between France and Turkey escalated following a June 10 incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, which France considers a hostile act under NATO’s rules of engagement. Turkey has denied harassing the French frigate.

France accused Ankara of repeated violations of the UN arms embargo on conflict-torn Libya.

When asked about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi suggesting he had a right to intervene in Libya, Macron said the Egyptian leader had reason to be worried.

“You noted the legitimate concern of President Sisi when he sees troops arriving at his border,” Macron said.

“This is a Mediterranean subject that affects us because today from Libya each day men and women are fleeing misery to come to Europe. Do you think we can let Turkey for a long time import Syrian fighters to Libya given everything we know?”