Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Monday described a recent statement by France's president calling for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Libya as "scandalous," underlining that it is a deliberate attempt to equate the presence of the Republic of Turkey in the country with certain paramilitary forces.
Speaking to reporters as the AK Party's Central Decision and Executive Board (MKYK) meeting was underway on Monday, Ömer Çelik said: "Turkey is not there as a paramilitary force. Turkey is there de facto. It doesn't exist as a militant force. It's there for training purposes upon the invitation of the legitimate government recognized by the United Nations."
"It is a deliberate mistake to equate the existence of the Republic of Turkey with some paramilitary forces," he said. "Seeing Turkey as a foreign soldier is a deliberate mistake, a policy of lies, deliberate propaganda."
Saying that Macron was making the "mistake of reducing the entire French foreign policy to anti-Turkey relations," Çelik added that Turkey and France had deep-rooted ties and that "it's wrong" to support a rivalry between the two countries.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar Tuesday also reiterated that Turkish forces' presence in Libya is a result of the two countries' bilateral agreements.
"We carry out military training, aid and consultancy activities. One thing needs to be understood well, we are definitely not a foreign power in Libya," he said.
Akar stated that if there is a development in the name of stability in Libya and if the political process has started, it has become possible with the contributions of Turkey.
"Libyan authorities also express this truth. Our aim is to ensure the territorial integrity and political unity of Libya with the understanding of 'Libya belongs to Libyans' and to contribute to the formation of a stable Libya," he said.
The North African country has been mired in civil war since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in a 2011 uprising. The bloodshed has drawn in competing Libyan factions and extremist groups as well as foreign powers.
According to a deal with the legitimate government in Libya, Turkey sent troops to shore up the United Nations-recognized government in Tripoli while Russia and other countries, including France, supported the eastern-based illegitimate forces led by putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
France itself has faced accusations of backing Haftar but has always insisted it has been fully objective in the conflict. Despite French weapons being found on a base used by pro-Haftar forces in 2019, Paris has rejected the claims.
World leaders and diplomats met in France on Friday for an international conference aimed at ensuring Libya sticks to a plan to hold elections in December and turn a new page in its history. Turkey sent only a low-level delegation to Paris as a sign of continued displeasure with Macron's foreign policy stance.
Security sources in Ankara have several times pointed out that Turkish forces cannot be classified as foreign fighters, unlike Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, as Turkish soldiers are in the country upon an official invitation by the Libyan government.
In April 2019, Haftar and his forces, backed by Egypt, Russia, France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), launched an offensive to try and capture the capital, Tripoli. His 14-month-long campaign collapsed, and the fall of Tripoli was prevented after Turkey stepped up its military support of the United Nations-backed government.
Ties between NATO allies France and Turkey have soured in recent years over Libya, northern Syria, drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean and anti-Muslim policies adopted by the Macron government.
Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers have reached a political agreement to sanction Russian mercenary company the Wagner Group, the EU foreign policy chief said on Monday.
"We touched upon the possible involvement of the Wagner Group. There was consensus to move forward in order to take restrictive measures against this group," Josep Borrell told reporters following the meeting of EU top diplomats.
He explained that the decision had to be prepared first at a technical level by setting up a list of people and entities to target.
The measures against the Wagner Group subscribe to a broader sanctions regime that the EU top diplomats agreed on in response to the crisis in the West African nation of Mali.
The U.S. Defense Department considers the private mercenary company a proxy force of the Russian state.
The Wagner Group has been deployed in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine since 2014.
According to reports, they have also intervened in the Syrian war, as well as in the conflicts of Libya, Sudan, Mali, and the Central African Republic.
In 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed to 2,000 Wager mercenaries fighting in Libya in support of Haftar.