Maritime accord may complicate energy exploration row

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) shakes hands with Fayez Al-Sarraj, the head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), during their meeting on Wednesday. - AFP

ISTANBUL: Turkey signed a military deal late Wednesday with Libya's UN-recognized government following a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, his office said. Erdogan met with the head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Prime Minister Fayed Al-Sarraj, to sign agreements on security and military cooperation, as well as maritime jurisdictions.
"We are confident that we will improve the security situation for the Libyan people together," Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency, wrote on Twitter. He called on other countries to support the GNA. "Stability of Libya is critically important for the safety of Libyans, regional stability, and prevention of international terrorism," Altun tweeted.

The deal comes despite calls from the Arab League - which includes Libya - to end cooperation with Turkey in protest at its military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria last month. Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE back Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in eastern Libya who launched an offensive in April in a bid to seize Tripoli from fighters loyal to the GNA. Turkey and Qatar openly support his rival Sarraj.

The Turkish government did not say where the Turkish and Libyan maritime boundaries met but Turkish drilling in the eastern Mediterranean has angered Greek Cypriots, Athens and the European Union. EU foreign ministers agreed economic sanctions against Turkey two weeks ago to punish it for drilling near the coast of Cyprus in violation of a maritime economic zone established off the divided island. The dispute pits Turkey against Greece, Cyprus and other eastern Mediterranean states that have agreed maritime and economic zones, leaving Ankara searching for allies in the region.

"This means protecting Turkey's rights deriving from international law," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said of the memorandum of understanding on the "delimitation of maritime jurisdictions". He said that such accords could be agreed with other countries if differences could be overcome and that Ankara was in favor of "fair sharing" of resources, including off Cyprus. "We are ready to do this working together with everyone, but if countries do not favor this that is their own preference."

The internationally recognized government in Tripoli confirmed the new agreements but gave no details. The government in eastern Libya, where rival political factions have been based since 2014, said the maritime accord was "illegitimate". The foreign affairs committee of the eastern-based parliament called it "a flagrant violation of Libya's security and sovereignty" and a threat to "peace and security in the Mediterranean sea".

Haftar controls most of Libya's oil fields and facilities but oil revenues are controlled by the central bank in Tripoli. The competing military alliances are also battling on the outskirts of the capital. In June, Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) said they had cut all ties with Turkey and that all Turkish commercial flights or ship trying to access Libya would be treated as hostile. Diplomats say Ankara has supplied drones and trucks to Serraj, while the LNA received support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. - Agencies