Top Turkish diplomat makes surprise visit to Libyan capital


Tripoli (AFP)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday paid a surprise visit to Tripoli, the seat of Libya's UN-recognised government, backed by Ankara in a conflict between rival Libyan powers.

It is the most significant delegation to visit the country since eastern Libya-based strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019.

Haftar's offensive came to an end in recent weeks, as the GNA, with increased Turkish support, drove his forces out of the northwest of the country.

Arriving around midday, Cavusoglu was accompanied by Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.

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

The meeting also covered the "monitoring of the implementation of the military and security memorandum of understanding" concluded in November 2019 between Tripoli and Ankara, the statement added.

It was under this controversial agreement that Ankara had reinforced its military support of the GNA, tilting the balance against Haftar, who is supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Oil-rich Libya has been torn by years of violence, drawing in tribal militias, jihadists and mercenaries since the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a Western-backed uprising.

The latest escalation has been marked by an uptick in foreign involvement.

Recent weeks have seen tensions rise between Turkey and France, which despite public denials, has long been suspected of favouring Haftar until his recent setbacks.

Paris has deemed Turkey's armed backing of the GNA "unacceptable", with Ankara retorting that France and other countries' support for Haftar is "the main obstacle to establishing peace and stability in Libya".

In Tripoli, the top Turkish diplomat's visit was also an opportunity to discuss "the return of Turkish companies" to the country, according to the GNA.

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