President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey would not refrain from “teaching a lesson” to Libyan renegade general Khalifa Haftar if his forces continue attacks against the internationally recognised government in Tripoli.
Erdogan’s remarks came on Tuesday when Turkey and Russia failed to convince Haftar to sign a binding truce to halt his nine-month campaign to try to conquer Libya’s capital.
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The initiative was the latest attempt to stabilise the North African country beset by turmoil since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Fayez al-Sarraj, who heads the Tripoli-based government that is recognised by the United Nations, signed the truce proposal after indirect talks in Moscow on Monday. However, Haftar left the Russian capital on Tuesday without signing.
The Russian defence ministry was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying Haftar had been positive about the ceasefire deal and was taking two days to consider it.
But Erdogan said Haftar had “run away”.
Earlier this month, Turkey’s parliament voted to allow a troop deployment to help the Tripoli government to fend off Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries.
“If the putschist Haftar’s attacks against the people and legitimate government of Libya continue, we will never refrain from teaching him the lesson he deserves,” Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party legislators in parliament.
“It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya,” he said.
Erdogan said Turkey had deep historical and social ties with the North African country and that Haftar would have taken over the entire nation if Ankara had not intervened.
Turkey will join Germany, the UK and Russia at a summit on Libya in Berlin on Sunday, he said.
Erdogan said the issue would now be discussed at talks in Berlin attended by European, North African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as the UN, EU, Africa Union and Arab League.
“The putschist Haftar did not sign the ceasefire. He first said yes, but later, unfortunately, he left Moscow, he fled Moscow,” Erdogan said. “Despite this, we find the talks in Moscow were positive as they showed the true face of the putschist Haftar to the international community.”
Haftar’s office and his forces have not officially confirmed the commander rejected the truce proposal, but a website linked to the forces said he would not sign.
Haftar and al-Sarraj did not meet in Moscow directly, talking instead via Turkish and Russian mediators.
The pair last met in Abu Dhabi in February 2019 before talks broke down over a power-sharing deal and Haftar moved his troops on Tripoli in April, after expanding his control beyond the east and south.
In June, Serraj told Reuters News Agency he would never sit down with Haftar again.
Conflict in Libya has wrecked the economy, disrupted oil production and triggered flows of migration to Europe that have now largely been stemmed.
Haftar’s troops have not been able to breach Tripoli’s defences but have in recent weeks made some small advances with help from Russian mercenaries, residents say.
That has pushed Turkey, which has business interests in the country, to deploy soldiers to Libya to help the Tripoli government.