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Too early to say Libya ceasefire has collapsed - Turkish defence minister

ANKARA/BERLIN (Reuters) - Turkey said on Wednesday it was too early to say whether a ceasefire in Libya had collapsed after Khalifa Haftar, commander of eastern Libyan forces, failed to sign a binding truce accord at talks this week.

Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar arrives for a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (not pictured) as part of a NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium October 25, 2019. Virginia Mayo/Pool via REUTERS

Russo-Turkish talks in Moscow have aimed to halt Haftar’snine-month campaign to seize the Libyan capital Tripoli fromforces aligned with the internationally recognised government ofFayez al-Serraj.

Serraj, whose embattled government has struggled to repelthe nine-month campaign, signed the truce proposal but Haftarleft Moscow without adding his signature. He has not commentedsince then whether he will sign it or not.

Since veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a 2011uprising, the North African country has been in turmoil, withoutside powers providing support to rival factions.

Turkey backs Serraj’s government, while Haftar has receivedsupport from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Russianmercenaries.

“We cannot say that the ceasefire has collapsed, it’s muchtoo early for such an interpretation,” Turkish Defence MinisterHulusi Akar told reporters in Ankara. He added that Ankara wasawaiting the outcome of diplomacy by Moscow, which has relationswith Serraj even as it has given support to Haftar.

He blamed Turkey in particular for its recent military agreements with the authorities in Libya, saying it was a clear violation of a United Nations arms embargo.

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Turkey has sent a training and cooperation team which is nowactive in Libya, Akar said. Turkey committed to military supportfor the Tripoli government in December after the arrival ofRussian mercenaries helped Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA)make some small gains along the Tripoli frontline.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday Turkey would “teacha lesson” to Haftar if his attacks on the Tripoli-basedgovernment continued.

On Sunday, Germany will host a summit on Libya involving therival camps, their main foreign backers and representatives fromthe United Nations, the United States, Russia, Britain, France,China, Turkey and Italy. Haftar and Serraj have also beeninvited but it is unclear whether they will come, a Germangovernment spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said efforts by Russia to broker a ceasefire had been inconclusive and urged all parties, including foreign backers.

“Only a political process can help us get out of this impasse. There will be no military solution,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.

Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed the Libya crisis in a phone call on Wednesday, Turkey’s presidency said.

The nine-month war over Tripoli is just the latest bout ofchaos in Libya, an OPEC oil exporter that has become a hub forhuman traffickers to ship migrants by boats to Italy, whileIslamist militants have exploited the widespread disorder.

Writing by Daren Butler and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich