ANKARA, (AP) — Turkey’s parliament began voting yesterday on whether to send Turkish troops to Libya to help the UN-supported government in Tripoli battle forces loyal to a rival administration in eastern Libya that is seeking to capture the capital.
The Turkish lawmakers are expected to approve the motion at the emergency session and grant a one-year mandate for the deployment, despite concerns that Turkish forces could aggravate Libya’s conflict further and destabilise the region.
The Tripoli-based government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj has faced an offensive by the rival, eastern-based regime and commander Gen Khalifa Hifter. The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violent chaos rivalling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Sarraj requested the Turkish deployment, after he and Sarraj signed a military deal that allows Ankara to dispatch military experts and personnel to Libya. That deal, along with a separate agreement on maritime boundaries between Turkey and Libya, has drawn ire across the region and beyond.
Ankara says the deployment is vital for Turkey to safeguard its interests in Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean, where it finds itself increasingly isolated as Greece, Cyprus and Egypt have established exclusive economic zones paving the way for oil and gas exploration.
Details of the possible Turkish deployment have not been revealed. The motion to be debated in parliament allows the government to decide on the scope, amount and timing of the deployment.
Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay told state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey would send “the necessary number (of troops) whenever there is a need.”
But he also said Turkey would not dispatch its forces if Libya’s rival government halts its offensive.
“If the other side adopts a different stance and says ‘Okay we are withdrawing, we are backing down,’ then why would we go?” he said. Turkey’s main opposition party plans to vote against the motion, saying it would embroil Turkey in another conflict and make it a party to the further “shedding of Muslim blood.” It has urged Erdogan’s government to search for a diplomatic solution in Libya instead.
However, Erdogan’s ruling party is in an alliance with a nationalist party and the two hold sufficient votes for the motion to pass.
The fighting around Tripoli escalated in recent weeks after Hifter declared a “final” and decisive battle for the capital. He has the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.