France blasts ‘extremely aggressive’ Turkish intervention against NATO mission targeting Libyan arms

File photo taken August 7, 2019, of a firgate in the Mediterranean Sea.
File photo taken August 7, 2019, of a firgate in the Mediterranean Sea. AFP - JACK GUEZ

France's defence ministry on Wednesday denounced an "extremely aggressive" intervention by Turkish frigates against a French navy vessel participating in a NATO mission in the Mediterranean. Turkey, however, has denied the claims.


The French sailors were trying to check a cargo on suspicion it was taking arms to Libya – forbidden under a UN embargo.

Turkish frigates carried out radar targeting three times, suggesting a missile strike was imminent, France's defence ministry said.

"This is an extremely aggressive act that is unacceptable by an ally against a NATO ship," a French defence ministry official, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

"We consider this an extremely grave matter," the official added. "We cannot accept that an ally behaves this way, that it does this against a NATO ship, under NATO command, carrying out a NATO mission."

In a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnès von der Mühll accused Turkey's navy of acting in a "hostile and aggressive" manner towards its NATO allies to prevent them from enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya. The violations, she added, were the main obstacles to achieving peace and stability in the North African nation.

The disclosure of the incident, which occurred a few weeks ago, came as NATO defence ministers held talks via video conference on Wednesday.

Turkey denies ‘untrue’ French claim

Turkey denied the claim that its navy harassed a French warship on a NATO mission, calling it "completely untrue".

A senior Turkish military official told Reuters that the French warship did not establish communications with the Turkish ship during the incident.

"Turkey is fulfilling its obligations as an ally today as always," the official said. "It has saddened us that the matter has reached this stage."

Tensions between NATO members France and Turkey have flared recently over their rival policies on the Libyan civil war. 

Turkey supports the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli led by Fayez al-Sarraj. France, despite public denials, has long been suspected of favouring rebel commander Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) based in eastern Libya.

Turkish support has been critical to the GNA in staving off a 14-month-long assault on Tripoli by Haftar's forces. That offensive came to an end earlier this month when the GNA managed to seize back all of western Libya.

>> Pro-Haftar powers ‘looking for alternatives’ after opponents seize all of western Libya

This week, Ankara condemned as "unacceptable" criticism from France over its shipments of weapons and fighters to the GNA. Paris calls the shipments a "direct violation" of the UN embargo.

"These waves of boats between Turkey and Misrata, sometimes escorted by Turkish frigates, are not contributing to any de-escalation," the French ministry official said Wednesday.

Top Turkish officials make surprise visit to Libya 

Senior Turkish officials made a surprise visit to Tripoli to meet GNA members on Wednesday that included Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.

It is the most significant delegation to visit the country since Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli in April 2019.

The Turkish officials discussed the "latest developments in the crisis" with GNA leader al-Sarraj and the "international efforts to resolve it", the GNA said in a statement. 

The visit was also an opportunity to discuss "the return of Turkish companies" to the country, the GNA said.

Before 2011, Turkish construction companies had secured a large share of the Libyan market, but the projects were abandoned with the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)


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