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Libya’s top diplomat demands withdrawal of foreign fighters

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A senior CAIRO (AP) Libyan diplomat on Monday called for the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from the North African country as it moves towards elections later this year.

Najla al-Manqoush, Libya’s interim government foreign minister, urged Turkey to implement UN Security Council resolutions demanding the repatriation of more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya.

Her remarks came at a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. He visited the capital Tripoli with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and other senior military and intelligence officials.

“We call on (Turkey) to take steps to implement all the provisions of the Security Council resolutions and to work together to expel all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libyan territories,” she said.

The remarks were seen as a rebuke to Turkey, which has deployed Syrian troops and mercenaries to fight alongside Tripoli militias since the forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter launched their offensive in the capital in 2019.

Cavusoglu responded by saying Turkish forces were in Libya as part of a training agreement reached with a previous Libyan administration. There are those who equate our legal presence … with foreign mercenary groups fighting in this country for money, he said.

The Libyan Foreign Minister may face criticism from pro-Turkish Libyans for ideological reasons and also others in Tripoli who are still afraid of a new attack by eastern-based forces, said Jalel Harchaoui, Libya’s senior researcher at the Initiative Geneva-based Global Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The withdrawal of hundreds of Turkish troops is undoubtedly a difficult thing to implement, he said. Very difficult for Tripoli because a very large (mercenary) mission is still in central Libya and can help (Hifter) march back west. And very difficult for Turkey because it has spent untold amounts to ensure that its presence in western Libya remains entrenched for a long time.

Turkey has been closely involved in Libya. He supported the UN-recognized National Accord Government, based in Tripoli against the Hifters forces. Turkey sent military supplies and fighters to Libya helping to upset the balance of power in favor of the GNA.

Turkey also signed an agreement with the Tripoli-based government defining the maritime borders between the two countries in the Mediterranean. This provoked protests from Greece and Cyprus. Both countries denounced the agreement saying it was a serious violation of international law that disregarded the rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries.

Libya plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 ousted longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, who was later assassinated. The oil-rich country has been divided in recent years between rival eastern and western administrations, each backed by various armed groups and foreign governments.

The Libyan interim government, which took power in March, is tasked with uniting a country devastated by nearly a decade of civil war. He also intends to lead Libya through general elections on December 24.

Security Council diplomats say there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, along with Russians and Chadians.

Security councils 15 member nations agreed at an informal meeting last week that getting foreign fighters and mercenaries to go home was the only way forward, according to officials.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Frazer contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

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