A Libyan man carries a picture of Khalifa Haftar during a demonstration in Benghazi, Libya, April 12 2019. Picture: REUTERS/ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI
A Libyan man carries a picture of Khalifa Haftar during a demonstration in Benghazi, Libya, April 12 2019. Picture: REUTERS/ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI

Ankara  — Turkey will not refrain from “teaching a lesson” to Khalifa Haftar if his eastern Libyan forces continue attacks against the internationally recognised government in Tripoli, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday.

Turkey and Russia failed to convince Haftar on Monday to sign a binding truce to halt his nine-month campaign to try to conquer the Libyan capital from forces aligned with the internationally recognised government.

The initiative was the latest attempt to stabilise Libya, a member of oil cartel Opec which has been beset by turmoil since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Fayez al-Serraj, who heads the Tripoli-based government, signed the truce proposal after indirect talks through Turkish and Russian mediators in Moscow on Monday, but Haftar left the Russian capital without signing.

The Russian defence ministry was quoted by Interfax news agency on Tuesday as saying Haftar had been positive about the ceasefire deal and was taking two days to discuss it with tribes that support his forces. But Erdoğan said Haftar had “run away”.

Turkey’s parliament voted this month to allow a troop deployment to help the Tripoli government to fend off Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries.

“If the putschist Haftar’s attacks against the people and legitimate government of Libya continue, we will never refrain from teaching him the lesson he deserves,” Erdoğan said in a speech to his AK Party lawmakers in parliament.

Erdoğan was speaking days before a summit Germany is hosting with the UN on Sunday. The conference will involve the rival camps, their main foreign backers and representatives from the UN, the US, Russia, Britain, France, China, Turkey and Italy.

Serraj and Haftar have both been invited.

Serraj is backed by Turkey, while Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) faction is supported by Egypt and the UAE, which have, for years, provided training and weapons, according to UN reports.

“The goal of this process is, with a group of states and international organisations, to support the efforts of the UN for a sovereign Libya and for the reconciliation process within Libya,” the German government said.

‘Our kin’

Since September, Russian mercenaries have joined the LNA forces, helping make small gains on the Tripoli frontline in recent weeks. That has prompted Turkey, which has business interests in the country, to deploy soldiers to Libya to help the Tripoli government.

“It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya,” Erdoğan said on Tuesday, adding that Haftar would have taken over all of Libya if Ankara had not intervened.

Haftar’s office and his forces have not officially confirmed the commander rejected the truce proposal, but a website linked to the forces said he would not sign.

Conflict in Libya has wrecked the economy, disrupted oil production and triggered flows of migration to Europe that have now largely been stemmed.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has been invited to the conference on Sunday, said during a visit to Cairo: “We must be hopeful because we absolutely must not resign ourselves to the fact that the Libyan population has been living for years in the midst of suffering and squandering resources rather than using them to promote well-being and prosperity.”

Reuters