Published: January 24, 2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that the “environment of chaos” in Libya threatens to affect the whole Mediterranean basin and urged international pressure to force the head of Libya’s eastern-based forces to abide by a tentative truce.
Erdogan made the comments as he attended the opening ceremony of a Turkish-German university’s new campus with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hosted a peace conference for Libya in Berlin on Sunday that resulted in a temporary cease-fire.
“The success of the (Berlin) plan depends on its implementation on the ground,” Erdogan said.
“It is important that pressure is exerted on (Gen. Khalifa Hifter who leads the eastern-based forces) and his supporters,” he said, referring to an attack and threats from Hifter’s forces that shut down Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport earlier this week.
Hifter’s forces, which control the east and much of southern Libya, receive support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. Turkey supports the Tripoli-based government, which is also backed to a lesser degree by Qatar and Italy.
Talks between Erdogan and Merkel were expected to also focus on the future of a migration deal between Turkey and the European Union that helped decrease refugee flows to Europe.
The number of migrants entering Europe from Turkey rose significantly last year as people fleeing conflict in Syria and Afghanistan arrived in Greece, leading to deteriorating conditions in overcrowded camps on the eastern Aegean islands.
Spearheaded by Germany, the EU agreed in 2016 to grant Turkey up to 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in Syrian refugee aid money and other incentives to persuade the government in Ankara to stop migrants departing for Greece.
Erdogan frequently accuses the EU of not fulfilling its side of the deal and has in the past threatened to “open the gates” for migrants to head to Europe.
He says his country cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of hosting more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and wants European support to settle Syrian refugees in a so-called “safe zone” in northern Syria. European nations are reluctant to back such a proposal.
The timing of Merkel’s visit also comes amid rising tensions with the EU over Turkey’s attempts to drill for natural gas in waters in the eastern Mediterranean where EU-member Cyprus says it has exclusive economic rights. Cyprus last week denounced Turkey as a “pirate” state that flouts international law.
Turkey insists it’s protecting its rights and interests, and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots, to the region’s energy resources. It says it’s carrying out drilling activities as part of an agreement with the Turkish Cypriots.