Turkey warns no ceasefire in Libya until Haftar withdraws

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warns that Ankara would support the resumption of the GNA's offensive against Sirte
El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Turquía, Mevlut Cavusoglu

PHOTO/PAVEL GOLOVKIN via REUTERS  -   Mevlut Cavusoglu

The condition for signing a ceasefire in the Libyan civil war, which has been open since 2011, is that the National Liberation Army (LNA), commanded by Marshal Khalifa Haftar, to withdraw from Sirte and Al-Jufra, two geostrategic enclaves currently under its control that Turkey aims to conquer with the help of its partner in the contest, the Government of National Unity (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj. This was stated by the Foreign Minister of the Eurasian nation, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in an exclusive statement to the Financial Times.

The head of Turkish diplomacy has recalled, in this line, that when Russia, an ally of the LNA, presented an offer of a ceasefire last month during the talks in Istanbul, the GNA already put its conditions on the table: that Haftar's troops leave the oil city of Sirte, in the north, and Al-Jufra, in the center, where the largest air base of the country is located, and return to the "lines" they had in 2015, that is, limited to the east of Libyan territory. "Now it's up to the other side, they should accept these preconditions for a lasting ceasefire," Cavusoglu said.

"There is a determination within the Tripoli-based administration [the GNA] to resume its offensive against Haftar's forces if they do not withdraw from Sirte," the Turkish foreign ministry official added. "Ankara can support this offensive, since the position of the ANG is legitimate and reasonable," he said. 

Cavusoglu's statements come just three days after it became known that Turkey and Russia were working on an "immediate" cessation of hostilities, which would include the permanent sharing of spheres of influence. This ceasefire project "would prevent the GNA and Turkey from crossing the red lines of Sirte and Al-Jufra", remaining under the control of the LNA, in exchange for obtaining other positions in the country that are still unknown, as explained at the time by analyst Will Pulido.

But the Turkish minister's message reveals that Ankara is not willing to give up its ambitions to conquer the two geostrategic enclaves, especially after being attacked at the base of Al-Watiya, an offensive for which responsibility has not yet been attributed. In the bombardment, Turkey lost a great deal of military equipment and was forced to abandon the installations, where it had announced its intention to build a permanent base for its troops in Libya. The alternative they have now chosen is Al-Jufra, which is defended by the pro-Russian LNA militias, which represents a major point of friction for the two administrations. And Sirte is interested in Ankara's energy resources, since in recent weeks it has become known that the Eurasian nation aspires to become the manager of energy and oil in Libya, with the economic benefits that this entails. At present, this enclave is under the sphere of influence of Egypt which, it should be remembered, has threatened Turkey with military intervention in the war if Ankara continues to advance on the locality.

"We have a military build-up on both sides, but that doesn't necessarily mean there will be an escalation, because if it happens in Sirte and Al-Jufra, it would mean a direct confrontation between Turkey and Russia, and I don't think either of us wants that," Wolfran Lacher, a researcher at the German Institute for International Affairs and Security, told the Financial Times. "But even if Russia and Turkey do reach an agreement on a demarcation line, the question is whether Haftar will agree, because he has more room for manoeuvre with the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates," the analyst says.

Turkey's plans in Libya

"Ankara is seeking, through agreements with the GNA, to have Turkish companies acquire most of the projects in Libya, especially in the fields of construction and energy," revealed Al-Arabiya, which cites several Libyan officials. "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has found in the Libyan conflict an opportunity to obtain lucrative business from Turkish companies, including what is owned by his relatives and businessmen close to him," the publication said. 

In this sense, the media reports how some Turkish companies, linked to Erdogan or the ruling party, Justice and Development (AKP), have already announced their intention to establish themselves in Libya to start their business, such as Karadeniz, "one of the most innovative companies that leads the energy sector not only in Turkey, but in the world, in addition to having operations in the finance, real estate and shipbuilding industries," or Karpowership, "the only fleet designed to meet energy needs quickly and consistently," through ships.