Turkey on Saturday rebuffed French President Emmanuel Macron’s call on foreign powers to remove their forces from Libya as part of efforts turn on a page on a decade of strife.
The North African country has been mired in civil war since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 uprising.
The bloodshed has drawn in competing Libyan factions and Islamist groups as well as foreign powers.
Turkey sent troops as well as pro-Ankara militia units from Syria to shore up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli while Russia and other countries supported the eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Macron told an international conference on Libya in Paris on Friday that “Russia and Turkey must withdraw their mercenaries without delay.”
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top foreign policy adviser told AFP on Saturday that putting the emphasis on a quick troop withdrawal was “wrong.”
“If you single out the pulling out of foreign forces... from Libya, as the most important, as the top issue, we believe that is wrong,” Ibrahim Kalin said in an exclusive interview.
“Libya needs support for its political process, the elections, economic issues,” he said in reference to presidential polls that world leaders would like to go ahead on December 24.
France itself has faced accusations of backing Haftar but has always insisted it has been fully objective in the conflict.
Turkey sent only a low-level delegation to Paris in a sign of continued displeasure with Macron’s foreign policy stance.
Kalin said a continued Turkish military presence in Libya will help support political stability and security in the energy-rich state.
“Our military presence there is to help the Libyan army train,” he said.
“We are there as a force of stability and help to the Libyan people. And our priority as far as security is concerned is to help the Libyans establish their united Libyan National Army.”