Libya’s Tripoli government signs economic deals with Turkey

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — One of Libya’s rival governments signed preliminary economic and maritime deals with Turkey on Monday, in a move that has inflamed tensions between it and the North African country’s other administration.

The agreements also angered Turkey's neighbor and regional rival Greece, which denounced them as “illegal.”

The deals, signed by Turkey’s foreign minister with the Tripoli-based Libyan government, signal a strengthening of ties amid repeated international calls for elections to resolve the country’s political divide.

The memorandums of understanding were signed by both countries in Tripoli, paving the way for further bilateral cooperation in the hydrocarbon and oil sectors. A gas deal is also expected, confirmed Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, during a news conference that followed the signings.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. For years the country has been split between rival administrations, one based in the east and one in the west, each supported by rogue militias and foreign governments. The past months have seen an uptick in deadly militia clashes.

Turkey has been a prominent backer of Libya’s Tripoli-based government, headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. Ankara’s support for Tripoli’s previous Government of National Accord helped turn the tide of Libya’s civil war. By supplying Tripoli-backed forces with advisers, equipment and intelligence, President Recep Tayipp Erdogan's government helped thwart a year-long campaign by Gen. Khalifa Hifter — commander of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces in the country’s east — to take the capital.

In 2019, Turkey also signed a controversial maritime border deal with the former Tripoli-based administration, granting it access to a contested economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The deal — which ignores the existence of several Greek islands, including Crete, lying between Turkey and Libya — re-ignited Turkey’s pre-existing tensions with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights.

The Greek foreign ministry said Monday that Greece “has sovereign rights in the region, which it intends to defend using all legitimate means.”

“Any reference or action in implementation of the (2019 border deal) will be by definition illegal and, depending on its gravity, there will be a reaction both at a bilateral level and at the level of the European Union and NATO,” a ministry statement said.

Relations between Greece and Turkey are at their worst in years, with Turkey issuing thinly veiled threats to invade Greece's Aegean Sea islands. Undersea gas and oil exploration rights are a key part of the dispute.

Along with the new economic deals, Libyan Foreign Minister Najla El Mangoush said that both delegations agreed to “mobilize international efforts to support a short roadmap for Libyan elections.”

Libya, which has been split between the rival administrations for years, was supposed to hold elections in December 2021. However, the elections were cancelled by Dbeibah following a disagreement over how the electoral process would be conducted. In response, the country’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister, Fathy Bashagha, who has for months sought to install his government in Tripoli.

In a statement published after the press conference, Bashagha condemned the agreements and said the signing of such deals was only “the inherent right of an elected authority.”

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