Libyan official: Turkish troops unwanted, destabilizing

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey's willingness to dispatch troops to Libya is “unacceptable" and such a move would constitute unwanted meddling in the affairs of a friendly country, the speaker of the north African country's parliament said Saturday.

According to the state-run Cyprus News Agency, Aguila Saleh said in a joint statement with his Cypriot counterpart that Turkey's actions are ratcheting up tensions and destabilizing the wider region.

Saleh and Cypriot parliamentary speaker Demetris Syllouris also reiterated their condemnation of a maritime border agreement that Turkey signed with Libya's Tripoli-based government — but which hasn't been ratified, as necessary, by the Libyan parliament — as a “flagrant violation of international law that's devoid of any legal basis.”

On a surprise visit to Tunisia earlier this week, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that his county would evaluate sending soldiers to Libya if there is an invitation from Tripoli, where the United Nations-supported but weak administration of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj is based.

Turkey has signed maritime and agreements with the Libyan government that controls the capital, Tripoli, and some of the country’s west.

The military deal allows Ankara to dispatch military experts and personnel, along with weapons, despite a U.N. arms embargo that has been violated by other international actors.

Turkey contends the maritime agreement gives it economic rights to a large swath of the eastern Mediterranean sea. Greece, Cyprus and Egypt have denounced the deal as legally invalid as it encroaches on their maritime borders.

In Rome, asked about a possible Turkish military action in Libya in support of Serraj's forces, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said he had tried to discourage any attempt at a military solution for Libya.

Conte, who discussed Libya with Erdogan in a phone call last week, told reporters on Saturday that a "proxy war in Libya" would, "instead of stabilizing" the North African country across the Mediterranean from Italy, only aggravate the "incredible fragmentation" there.

Conte called for stepped-up diplomatic pressure to push for a political solution, and said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio might soon return to Libya to push Italy's determination to work for a "cessation of hostilities."

"We can't accept any military escalation," the Italian premier said at a year-end news conference.

Sarraj is battling an offensive launched in April by the rival government based in eastern Libya and forces loyal to commander Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who is trying to take Tripoli.

The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violence rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

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