Erdogan Slams Russian 'Mercenaries' in Libya, Kremlin Voices Concern Over Possible Turkish Troop Deployment

Libyan force attacking Tripoli gives militias 3-day deadline

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, November 19, 2018.
Vladimir Putin land Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, 2018.Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev,AP

Turkey cannot remain silent against "mercenaries" like Russian-backed Wagner that support the forces of Khalifa Haftar in Libya, broadcaster NTV quoted President Tayyip Erdogan as saying on Friday.

"Through the group named Wagner, they are literally working as Haftar's mercenaries in Libya. You know who is paying them," Erdogan said, according to NTV.

"That is the case, and it would not be right for us to remain silent against all of this. We have done our best until now, and will continue to do so," he added.

Erdogan's comments come a day after Libya's internationally recognised government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), said it ratified a security and military accord between Ankara and Tripoli, opening the way for potential Turkish military help.

Russia on Friday said it was very concerned by Turkey potentially sending troops to Libya and that a security deal between the two nations raised many questions, the Interfax news agency cited a source at Russia's foreign ministry.

Libya's internationally recognised government said on Thursday it had ratified a security and military cooperation deal with Turkey, in an effort to end a months-long offensive by rival forces.

Erdogan said on Wednesday that Ankara would improve cooperation with Libya by offering military support to the GNA and backing joint steps they have taken in the Mediterranean.

It was not immediately clear what kind of military support Turkey might offer Libya or when.

The GNA, based in the capital Tripoli, has been fighting since April to push back an offensive by Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar.

The LNA issued a statement Friday demanding that the powerful Misrata militias, which are fighting on behalf of the government in the Libyan capital, withdraw from both Tripoli and the coastal city of Sirte. The Misrata militias are named after the western Libyan town of Misrata, which saw some of the heaviest fighting during the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The militias played a key role in Gadhafi's ouster.

For months, the LNA and the militias have been locked in fierce clashes on Tripoli's southern outskirts, with the fighting mostly stalemated.

Last week, commander Hafter, who heads the LNA, declared that the “zero hour” of the battle for Tripoli had begun, nearly eight months since he began his offensive to take the city. The announcement triggered a fresh bout of clashes around Tripoli.

Friday's LNA statement warned that if the militias do not withdraw, their town Misrata will continue to be targeted “every day, non stop and in an unprecedentedly intensive way.”

The warning came shortly after an LNA airstrike targeted sites where Turkish weapons and military equipment had been stored, said the statement. The Tripoli-based government led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj condemned the attack, saying it caused civilian casualties but without providing details

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