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Turkish envoy says France suspending role in NATO naval mission

PARIS (Reuters) – Turkey’s ambassador to France on Wednesday said that Paris had informed NATO it was suspending its involvement in a naval operation in the Mediterranean after a probe into an incident between French and Turkish warships did not back Paris’ claims.

Ties between NATO allies France and Turkey have soured in recent weeks over Libya, Northern Syria and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.

France has been especially angry after accusing Turkish warships of being aggressive towards its Courbet warship after it attempted to inspect a vessel in June that it suspected was violating a United Nations arms embargo on Libya. The Courbet was operating in the NATO Sea Guardian operation.

NATO opened an investigation after France protested during an alliance defence ministers meeting in June.

“It seems that the NATO experts did not reach the same conclusion. I had the information yesterday, it seems that the Courbet is withdrawing from this NATO exercise,” envoy Ismail Hakki Musa told a hearing in the French Senate.

French newspaper L’Opinion reported on Wednesday that France had sent a letter to NATO informing the alliance of its decision to suspend its role in operation Sea Guardian until it had clarifications.

The French Armed Forces Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Allied Maritime Command, which heads up Sea Guardian, did not immediately respond for comment.

France has said that on June 10 Turkish warships flashed their radar lights three times at the Courbet and that Turkish sailors had also put on bullet-proof vests and stood behind their light weapons during the incident.

Musa denied the French account and told senators that it was the French warship that had been aggressive.

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GNA vows to retake Libya's east after Sirte offensive

GNA-aligned forces launched offensive to seize Sirte from Haftar’s LNA on Saturday.

Libya’s internationally recognised government has promised to retake the country’s east after launching an offensive to capture the strategic city of Sirte from the eastern-based forces of renegade commander Khalifa Haftar.

On Saturday, forces allied with the Government of National Accord (GNA) launched the offensive to seize Sirte, a key gateway to the country’s main oil fields in the east, from Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) forces which had taken the city in January.

More:

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  • Haftar proposed Libya ceasefire, says Egypt’s el-Sisi

  • Libya: The battle for Tripoli explained in 600 words

Sirte is the hometown of former longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi and the last major settlement before the traditional boundary between Libya’s west and east.

On Sunday, Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said: “Libya will not be completed without its east.”

Haftar, who launched a campaign last April to capture the capital, Tripoli, from the GNA, has recently suffered significant military setbacks at the hands of forces aligned with the government, which is backed by the United Nations.

On Friday, a government military spokesman said GNA forces were in complete control of the city of Tarhuna, about 90 kilometres (56 miles) southeast of Tripoli, and Haftar’s last stronghold in western Libya.  

On Saturday, Egypt, which backs Haftar, unveiled an initiative to end the conflict in Libya. The plan, revealed by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi alongside Haftar at a news conference, included a proposal for a ceasefire to take effect from Monday.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya, on Sunday, welcomed the initiative.

“In order for talks to resume in earnest, the guns must be silenced. In that light, UNMSIL welcomes the calls by international and regional actors in recent days for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Libya,” the UN mission said in a statement.

However, it said it remains alarmed by the harm inflicted on the civilian population by the continuing cycle of violence in Libya.

“The recent military movements in Greater Tripoli and Tarhouna have led to new waves of displacement and suffering of over 16,000 Libyans in the past few days,” it added.

Libya plunged into chaos after Gaddafi’s killing during the 2011 uprising.

The oil-rich North African country is split between two rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by opposing fighters struggling for power in the wake of Gaddafi’s downfall.

Haftar has since last year sought to gain control over the west, fighting the GNA in an abortive attempt to seize Tripoli.


Inside Story

Has Khalifa Haftar’s campaign in Libya failed?

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Libya calls for US, EU sanctions on Russian mercenaries, backers

Libya’s National Oil Corporation said foreign mercenaries forced their way into Sharara oilfield on Friday.

Libya’s permanent representative to the United Nations has called for the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions over the activities of Russian mercenaries and other actors involved in the conflict in the North African country.

Russian mercenaries and other foreign fighters forced their way into the Sharara oilfield on Friday, according to Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC).

“Since UN Sec Council failed to sanction individuals/mercenaries as Wagner/Haftar and others, who violate all resolutions, US/EU should take such actions and freeze assets as any terrorist organisation and hold who finance them accountable,” Taher el-Sonni wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

On Friday, the NOC said Russian and other foreign mercenaries entered Sharara oilfield in a convoy of vehicles and met representatives of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), forces established to maintain security at the oilfields.

The Sharara oilfield produces more than 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day, forming roughly one-third of the oil-rich country’s production.

The oilfield resumed production on June 7 after a months-long hiatus which caused billions of dollars in losses.

On Friday, the US embassy in Libya condemned the occupation of the oilfield by Wagner and other foreign mercenaries as part of “an unprecedented foreign-backed campaign to undermine Libya’s energy sector”.

The Kremlin has denied that it uses private military contractors abroad.

Libya holds Africa’s largest crude reserves, but nine years of conflict and violence since the overthrow of ruler Muammar Gaddafi have hobbled production and exports.

In April 2019, renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive against the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). More than 1,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Forces aligned with the GNA have pushed Haftar’s fighters out of much of northwestern Libya in recent weeks after Turkey intensified its support to the GNA.

Haftar’s forces, which are supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, have maintained control of eastern Libya.

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At least six migrants died, 93 rescued off Libya's coast

UN says rescued migrants, including one woman who gave birth on a rubber dinghy, brought back to Libya.

A woman who gave birth at sea was among 93 migrants rescued off Libyan shores as they tried to reach Europe, but six others died along the way, the UN’s migration agency said.

The survivors were brought back overnight to the port city of Khoms, 120km (75 miles) west of the capital Tripoli, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Twitter.

“Among them was a woman who gave birth on the rubber dinghy” that had undertaken the perilous Mediterranean crossing, it said.

“Migrants reported to IOM staff that 6 people have died along the journey,” it added.

Libya was thrown into chaos after the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011. 

Traffickers have exploited the unrest to turn the North African country into a key route for migration towards Europe.

The situation of refugees and migrants in Libya worsened after eastern Libya-based military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an assault on Tripoli in 2019 and the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

These people arrive in Libya fleeing poverty, conflict, war, forced labour, female genital mutilation, corrupt governments and personal threats. 

Some arrive in Libya by choice, others by force. For some, Libya is a country of destination and not transit. 

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised the systematic return of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean to Libya, where they are held in crowded detention centres.

These centres are said to be overcrowded with unhygienic and inhumane conditions, with abuse and violence rampant. There is a shortage of food and drinking water, but an abundance of torture and forced labour.

“The conditions in these centres are crazy,” Alkaol, 17, a migrant from The Gambia, told Al Jazeera.

“Sometimes you get food, sometimes you don’t. If they give you bread, you eat half and save half. You don’t know when you will eat next. If you don’t have money, your only way out is either escaping or death.

“If they catch people running away, they shoot at you. They may shoot you in the leg, they may shoot you in the head.”

The IOM said those rescued overnight were released after disembarking in Khoms.

The latest operation came just days after French charity vessel Ocean Viking picked up dozens of migrants off the Italian island of Lampedusa after they had drifted from Libya.

Nicholas Romaniuk, who coordinated the mission aboard that vessel, said rescue ships are often out-run by the Libyan coastguard who beat them to intercept migrants and return them to Libya.

“There is no coordination, no information sharing for life-saving operations. We’re talking about people who were reported to be dying, a newborn baby on board,” said Romaniuk.

“The fact that, even in this situation, they won’t share information, it’s an absolute disgrace.”

More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the IOM. 

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