Too early to say Libya ceasefire has collapsed - Turkish defence minister

By Orhan Coskun and Thomas Escritt
NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels

By Orhan Coskun and Thomas Escritt

ANKARA/BERLIN (Reuters) - Turkey said on Wednesday it was too early to say whether a ceasefire in Libya had collapsed after Khalifa Haftar, commander of eastern Libyan forces, failed to sign a binding truce accord at talks this week.

Russo-Turkish talks in Moscow have aimed to halt Haftar's nine-month campaign to seize the Libyan capital Tripoli from forces aligned with the internationally recognised government of Fayez al-Serraj.

Serraj, whose embattled government has struggled to repel the nine-month campaign, signed the truce proposal but Haftar left Moscow without adding his signature. He has not commented since then whether he will sign it or not.

Since veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a 2011uprising, the North African country has been in turmoil, with outside powers providing support to rival factions.

Turkey backs Serraj's government, while Haftar has received support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Russian mercenaries.

"We cannot say that the ceasefire has collapsed, it's much too early for such an interpretation," Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters in Ankara. He added that Ankara was awaiting the outcome of diplomacy by Moscow, which has relations with Serraj even as it has given support to Haftar.

He blamed Turkey in particular for its recent military agreements with the authorities in Libya, saying it was a clear violation of a United Nations arms embargo.

Turkey has sent a training and cooperation team which is now active in Libya, Akar said. Turkey committed to military support for the Tripoli government in December after the arrival of Russian mercenaries helped Haftar's Libya National Army (LNA) make some small gains along the Tripoli frontline.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday Turkey would "teach a lesson" to Haftar if his attacks on the Tripoli-based government continued.

On Sunday, Germany will host a summit on Libya involving the rival camps, their main foreign backers and representatives from the United Nations, the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Turkey and Italy. Haftar and Serraj have also been invited but it is unclear whether they will come, a German government spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

France's foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said efforts by Russia to broker a ceasefire had been inconclusive and urged all parties, including foreign backers.

"Only a political process can help us get out of this impasse. There will be no military solution," Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.

Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed the Libya crisis in a phone call on Wednesday, Turkey's presidency said.

The nine-month war over Tripoli is just the latest bout of chaos in Libya, an OPEC oil exporter that has become a hub for human traffickers to ship migrants by boats to Italy, while Islamist militants have exploited the widespread disorder.


(Writing by Daren Butler and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich)