By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will send military experts and technical teams to support Libya’s internationally recognized government, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday, a day after President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish military units were moving to Tripoli.
Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord asked for Turkish support last month as it fends off an offensive by forces led by eastern leader Khalifa Haftar, backed by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkish military units had started moving to Libya to support the GNA. Asked to elaborate on Erdogan’s comments, Cavusoglu said Turkey would send experts, advisers and technical teams under a military cooperation agreement signed with the GNA in November.
A bill passed by Turkey’s parliament last week also allowed for the deployment of troops.
“How and when this will happen is to be decided by the government, under the president’s leadership,” Cavusoglu said.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia condemned the “recent Turkish escalation in Libya” and the parliamentary approval for troop deployment, calling it a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The United Nations has imposed an arms embargo on both sides of Libya’s conflict, which it says several countries have breached.
SYRIAN REBELS IN LIBYA
Cavusoglu’s comments come a week after Turkish officials said that Ankara was considering sending Syrian rebel fighters to Libya as part of its planned military support.
Ankara has backed rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the almost nine-year civil war, and Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters spearheaded a Turkish military offensive in northern Syria in October.
A spokesman for the FSA denied that Ankara had requested that it send fighters to Libya, but a military source within the FSA said some fighters had signed up on an individual basis to work as “bodyguards” for a Turkish security company in Libya.
Flights were suspended at Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Friday due to rocket fire and shelling, and at least 30 people were killed in an attack on a military academy in Tripoli on Saturday.
The U.S. Embassy in Libya said the violence “underscores the dangers of toxic foreign interference in Libya, such as the arrival of Syrian fighters supported by Turkey as well as the deployment of Russian mercenaries.”
Cavusoglu denied that any FSA fighters had been deployed to Libya and said Turkey was against the deployment of mercenaries in Libya, referring to Russian and Sudanese fighters.
Libya has lacked stable central rule since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 by rebel fighters with air support from NATO.
In recent years the country has had two governments, the GNA based in the capital Tripoli and a rival administration based in the east. Haftar, the most powerful figure in the east, has launched a campaign to unite the country by capturing Tripoli.
(Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff)