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Turkey says six of its nationals held by Haftar in Libya, vows response

Attila Kisbenedek, AFP | File photo of Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

Turkey said Sunday that six of its nationals were being held by Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces and vowed to respond to any attacks on its vessels or interests.

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The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement it would consider Khalifa Haftar's "illegal militia forces" to be "legitimate targets" if the Turks are not released.

"The detention of six of our citizens by illegal militia forces linked to Haftar is an act of thuggery and piracy. We expect our citizens to be immediately released," said the foreign ministry.

"Should this not happen, Haftar elements will become legitimate targets," it added.

But the ministry did not provide details on where the Turks were being held or when they had been taken by the forces.

Earlier, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said there would be "heavy" consequences to any "hostile attitude or attacks".

His comments came after a spokesman for Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) called Turkish assets in Libya "legitimate targets", accusing Turkey of helping rival militias allied with the UN-supported government.

Haftar's forces have received aid from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France.

Akar said Turkey was in Libya to support "regional peace and stability". His comments were carried by the official Anadolu news agency.

He emphasised Turkey's push to support a political solution in Libya would continue and said Turkish efforts were in line with international law and agreements.

Haftar forces says Turkish drone destroyed

Tensions have been mounting between Turkey and Haftar since the Libyan strongman launched an offensive from eastern Libya to take the capital Tripoli in early April.

Anti-Haftar forces recently retook the strategic town of Gharyan in a surprise attack and a major setback for the strongman.

On Sunday, Haftar’s forces said they destroyed a Turkish drone at Tripoli's Mitiga military air base. The statement posted on the Facebook page of Haftar’s war information division did not provide further details.

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

Turkey has a keen interest in Libya, especially since it had been part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912 when the North African country was conquered by Italy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed his country backs the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and provides weapons to it under a "military cooperation agreement".

He told reporters on June 20 that Turkish backing had allowed Tripoli to "rebalance" the fight against Haftar.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last month criticised "some countries" without naming them who were giving weapons and ammunition support to Haftar.

"They should not forget that taking sides like this, supporting military solutions rather than political solutions, will drag Libya into a long-running civil war," Cavusoglu said on May 2.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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