LNA forces destroy Turkish drone in Tripoli in showdown with Ankara

Haftar's administration cut all ties with Turkey on Friday, banning its flights and ships from eastern Libya.
Monday 01/07/2019
In this file photo taken on September 20, 2018, a Turkish unmanned aircraft (ANKA) is displayed during the Teknofest festival at Istanbul's new airport on September 20, 2018 in Istanbul. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on September 20, 2018, a Turkish unmanned aircraft (ANKA) is displayed during the Teknofest festival at Istanbul's new airport on September 20, 2018 in Istanbul. (AFP)

Libyan National Army (LNA) forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar said they destroyed a Turkish drone parked at Tripoli's only working airport on Sunday, halting temporarily civilian flights as tensions between Ankara and the LNA-backed administration mounted.

LNA forces said they hit the drone in an air strike on Mitiga airport, part of a series of measures meant to punish Turkey for its support to the militias and militant groups backing the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. 

The airport closed after the strike but later reopened, according to its website.

They also said they had arrested two Turks in the northeastern oil town of Ajdabiya.

Turkey's foreign minister earlier accused Haftar's supporters of arresting six of its citizens and warned that the eastern forces would become a "legitimate target" if the Turks were not released immediately. LNA sources deny its alleged arrest of six Turkish nationals. 

Haftar's Libyan National Army forces launched a campaign on April 4 to try to seize the Libyan capital - from the Tripoli government's forces which are supported by Turkey and Qatar.

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

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

Haftar's administration cut all ties with Turkey on Friday, banning its flights and ships from eastern Libya.

It upped those measures on Sunday by declaring Turkish firms, imports and even symbols illegal.

Ankara has supplied drones and trucks to forces allied to Tripoli's Western-backed prime minister, Fayiz Sarraj. It has been accused by LNA sources of providing pro-GNA militias with advice from Turkish officers operating on the ground in the ongoing battle for Tripoli. Egypt and other regional powers are said to be backing the LNA. 

The Tripoli offensive has upended United Nations-led plans to stabilise Libya after years of conflict that have left the oil producer divided and caused living standards to plummet.

The conflict risks disrupting oil production, creating a vacuum to be exploited by militants and prompting more migrants to head for Italy by boat. 

(Reuters)