Turkey is preparing to strengthen its relations with Libya further, to the point of considering sending troops to the war-stricken country amid a recent cooperation deal over the Eastern Mediterranean. For this purpose, the deal with Libya on military cooperation came to the Turkish Parliament to be ratified on Saturday.
Seeking to "provide ground for relations and develop cooperation" between Turkey and Libya's U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), the agreement includes increased cooperation in the exchange of personnel, materials, equipment, consultancy and experience between the two sides.
It also offers Turkish support for the establishment of a Quick Reaction Force for police and military in Libya, as well as enhanced cooperation on intelligence and in the defense industry. Turkey and Libya signed two separate deals on Nov. 27 following a meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the head of the Presidential Council of GNA, Fayez Al Sarraj, in Istanbul. One of the deals was critically important in enabling Turkey to secure its rights in the Mediterranean while preventing any fait accompli action by other states in the region. The other agreement was on military cooperation.
The earlier memorandum on maritime boundaries asserted Turkey's rights in the Eastern Mediterranean in the face of unilateral drilling by the Greek Cypriot administration, clarifying that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources in the area. It went into effect on Dec. 8.
Following the military cooperation deal, Erdoğan said Ankara might consider sending troops to Libya if the Libyan government made such a demand.
As a result, the agreement became one of the leading topics on Parliament’s agenda. The deal outlines the establishment of a military unit with the duties of a police force to function in Libya with Turkish training. Turkey will also provide consultancy, experience, planning and equipment. It also outlines the formation of an office to orchestrate defense and security cooperation between both countries.
The deal also suggests that the two countries cooperate in terms of security and defense industries, the fight against terrorism and illegal migration, as well as the security of maritime, airspace and land borders, and the prevention of smuggling. The two countries are also to act together on topics of training and information sharing over natural disasters, conducting joint exercises, governance of personnel and bilateral official visits. Both countries are also expected to exchange intelligence, cooperate on operational and logistic issues, and exchange information on logistic systems, military medicine and health services, electronic information systems, cyber defense, protection of peace, humanitarian aid and the fight against pirates. There will also be an exchange of personnel for the improvement of vocational training as well as social, sports and cultural events.
On Saturday at the 19th Doha Forum held in Qatar, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar met with al-Sarraj and discussed these recently inked deals.
Following the meeting, Akar said the agreements were based on international laws and both countries only sought to protect their legitimate rights in the area, where tension has increased since the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Libya has remained dogged by turmoil since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising led to the ousting from office and death of former President Moammar Gadhafi after more than four decades in power.
Since then, Libya's stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of power, one in Tobruk and another in Tripoli, as well as in-fighting by a host of heavily-armed militia groups.
The military, pushed by Khalifa Haftar's army, has allied with a parallel eastern administration based in Benghazi, marking a dangerous escalation in a power struggle that has dragged on since the vacuum following Gadhafi's death emerged. Haftar is not recognized by the international community, as the elected parliament of the country is centered in Tripoli.
Despite the deal’s premise of intensified military cooperation, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, sending troops to Libya is something else that needs to be discussed separately and should not necessarily be considered within the scope of this deal.
“Sending troops is something else. Previously, our president said that Turkey will consider this option if Libya requests to do so. These remarks were not in relation to this deal. Besides, we already have similar deals with Libya over security and military that were signed in the past,” the foreign minister expressed.
The maritime deal with Libya caused massive reaction from the international community, especially Greece and the EU, both of which accused Turkey of violating the maritime laws despite the international law process otherwise.
EU leaders condemned the Turkey-Libya maritime deal at a meeting in Brussels early Friday, declaring the boundary demarcation agreement to be in breach of international laws, twisting the facts.
The statement expresses "solidarity" with Greece and Cyprus, who worry that Turkey is trying to establish a claim to valuable natural gas reserves that are suspected to lie under the sea bed.
According to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, while a country is able to stretch its territorial waters only 12 nautical miles out to sea when it comes to the setting up of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where in which it has the rights to fishing, mining and drilling, the area can extend for an additional 200 miles. However, if the maritime distance between the two countries is less than 424 miles, a bilateral deal is needed to determine a mutually agreed-upon dividing line for their respective EEZs. Greece, on the other hand, claims that the islands also have their own EEZs, and with this claim, it reduces Turkey's zone remarkably while twisting what international law states.
Meanwhile, Turkey introduced a new visa rule to ease travel for citizens of Libya as part of wider steps that are bringing the two countries closer.
According to the announcement published in Turkey's Official Gazette on Sunday, Libyan passport holders under the age of 18 or over the age of 55 will now be able to travel to Turkey without having to obtain an entry visa. Previously, visa-free entry was only available for Libyans over the age of 68 and those holding Schengen visas were able to apply for an online visa.
Turkey reintroduced visa requirements for Libyan nationals in 2015 over growing political unrest and instability in the North African country. Before that, Turkey was a major holiday destination and one of the few countries which Libyans could visit without a visa.