Turkey threatens to teach Haftar ‘a lesson’ as Berlin sticks to plan for conference on Libya

Libyan sources said that Haftar refused any interference, mediation or participation from Turkey in supervising the ceasefire.
Tuesday 14/01/2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister, in Ankara, January 13. (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister, in Ankara, January 13. (AFP)

ISTANBUL - Turkey said on Tuesday it is ready to teach Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar “a lesson” as a breakdown of talks in Moscow heightened tensions, but Germany said a planned international peace conference Libya this coming Sunday would go ahead. 

“If putschist Haftar continues his attacks on [Libya’s] legitimate government and the people, we will not refrain from teaching him the lesson he deserves,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a televised meeting with lawmakers of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara on Tuesday.

Erdogan said Haftar “ran away” from Moscow after peace talks between him and the head of the Tripoli-based government, Fayez al-Sarraj, failed to lead to an open-ended ceasefire after nine months of fighting.

“If Haftar continues like this, the Berlin process is meaningless,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Moscow, according to Turkish news reports.

But the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement on Tuesday it had sent invitations to Haftar and Sarraj as well as to several countries, including Turkey, Russia, France, Italy, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria and to the UN and other international organisations for the conference scheduled for Jan 19.

The planned setup means that the leaders of the warring parties as well as their main international backers would be represented in Berlin. Haftar is enjoying support from Russia, Egypt and the UAE, while the UN-recognised government headed by Sarraj is backed by Turkey and Qatar.

Despite their differences, Turkey and Russia issued a joint ceasefire call last week that led to an unsteady truce on the ground but lacked a written understanding between the warring parties.

The Moscow talks were designed to secure a deal but failed. On Tuesday morning, Russian Foreign Ministry said that Haftar left Moscow without signing a draft agreement. Russian news agencies reported Tuesday that Sarraj, who had signed the accord, had also left.

Haftar declined to sign the ceasefire deal because it did not include a deadline for disbanding government forces, the Interfax news agency cited a Libyan military source as saying.

Al Arabiya quoted unnamed sources as saying that Haftar refused any interference, mediation or participation from Turkey in supervising the ceasefire. The general also complained that Russia had ignored several demands brought forward by his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), the broadcaster said.

According to the Al Arabiya report, the draft for the ceasefire agreement did not include a demand for Turkish forces to withdraw from Libya. Haftar also demanded that a recent military agreement between Sarraj and Turkey be cancelled.

But Erdogan made it clear in his speech on Tuesday that he has no intention of ending his support for Sarraj or the Turkish engagement in Libya in general. The Turkish leader had said earlier this month that the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya had started. News reports, denied by both Ankara and the Sarraj government in Tripolis, also says Syrian fighters paid by Turkey have joined the fight against Haftar’s forces.

“Nobody should expect us or our country to turn our backs on our brothers who want our help,” Erdogan said, in a reference to Sarraj’s request for Turkish military assistance. “Those who drench Libya in blood also show their hatred towards us.”

The developments shake preparations for the Berlin conference, organised by the German government amid concerns over thousands of refugees reaching Europe’s southern parts in boats from Libya.

Haftar started a major military offensive to take the capital Tripoli, the seat of Sarraj’s government, in April of last year. His forces recently scored a major victory by taking the coastal city of Sirte but have so far failed to overcome pro-government forces around Tripoli. Libya plunged into turmoil after the 2011 civil war that ousted and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.