France accuses Turkey of hostile acts to stop enforcement of Libya arms embargo

PARIS (Reuters) - France accused Turkey’s navy on Wednesday of acting in a hostile and unacceptable manner towards its NATO allies to prevent them from enforcing a United Nations arms embargo on Libya.

NATO defence ministers are holding a virtual meeting this week amid growing tensions between Paris and Ankara. The two allies have traded barbs over the crisis in Libya, accusing each other of supporting opposing sides in the country’s war.

French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said violations of the embargo, notably by Turkey, were the main obstacles to achieving peace and stability in Libya.

“Turkey’s support for the ongoing offensive of the Government of National Accord goes directly against efforts to secure an immediate truce,” von de Muhll said.

“This support is coupled with hostile and unacceptable behaviour by the Turkish maritime forces towards NATO allies, aimed at hampering efforts to implement the United Nations arms embargo.”

Turkey, which backs the internationally recognised GNA authorities in Tripoli, has secured a foothold in Libya by helping to repel an assault on the capital by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.

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France, which has supported Haftar in the past, says it is not taking sides.

Paris’ strong reaction appears to stem from an incident at the end of May when Turkish warships flashed their radar lights three times at the French Courbet warship in the eastern Mediterranean, a French defence official said.

He said the Courbet, under NATO command, was carrying out a mission to check whether the Turkish vessel Cirkin was smuggling arms to Libya after it turned off its transponder, failed to identify itself and did not divulge its final destination.

A senior Turkish official rejected the accusation earlier in the day. He said French forces had sought to search a Turkish vessel in international waters “and this was not permitted”, and that Turkey had taken no provocative or aggressive action to prevent this.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Mark Heinrich