Putin and Erdogan demand Libyan ceasefire
The two populist presidents are backing rival sides in Libya but after talks in Istanbul they said the ceasefire should start this Sunday.
“Seeking a military solution to the ongoing conflict in Libya only causes further suffering and deepens the divisions among Libyans. Securing an immediate ceasefire is the foremost priority to start an inclusive intra-Libyan political process under UN auspices,” said Erdogan and Putin in a joint statement.
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has warned of a civil war in Libya on the scale of the Syrian conflict.
“We want to avoid Libya becoming the scene of proxy wars,” Maas said. “Libya cannot become a second Syria and so we need rapidly to enter a political process, an agreement on an effective ceasefire and an arms embargo.”
Turkey started sending its armed forces to Libya last week in support of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. Ankara says approximately 2,500 mercenaries are in Libya to support the rebel General Khalifar Haftar, which Russia denies.
Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa and is a gateway to Europe for African migrants.
On Monday Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) captured the port of Sirte near Libya’s “oil crescent” and his troops appear poised to move on the city of Misrata next.
Sirte was controlled by forces loyal to the UN-recognised GNA after they expelled Islamic State in 2016.
But a Salafist militia switched sides and the city fell without fighting to the LNA.
As former dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown, Sirte has suffered since the military strongman was overthrown in 2011.
Many Sirte residents welcomed Haftar’s forces as they saw GNA troops as former anti-Gaddafi insurgents from Misrata, which is between Sirte and Tripoli.
The GNA’s loss of Sirte reduces its military and strategic position, helping Haftar to block any potential counterattack on Libya’s “oil crescent” in the northeast, which the rebel commander has held since 2016.
Haftar might have feared the GNA could use Sirte’s airbase to attack his eastern territory.
The loss of Sirte exposes the eastern route to Tripoli.
Haftar is thought to be looking to attack Misrata, 200km east of Tripoli, which previously blocked their advance west.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has held talks with Haftar in Rome. Conte was due to meet the UN-recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj but the meeting was cancelled amid rumours of planned talks with Haftar.
Al-Serraj visited Brussels for talks with Maas and European Union chiefs.
Picture credit: Wikimedia