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France leaves NATO maritime operation after probe into clash with Turkish ships

Published: Updated:

France is suspending its involvement in a NATO naval operation off Libya’s coast after a standoff with a Turkish ship and amid growing tensions within the military alliance over Libya.

France’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that France sent a letter Tuesday to NATO saying it is suspending its participation in Sea Guardian “temporarily.”

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A ministry official said France wants NATO allies to “solemnly reaffirm their attachment” to the arms embargo on Libya.

France has accused Turkey of repeated violations of the UN arms embargo on conflict-torn Libya and branded the Turkish government in Ankara as an obstacle to securing a cease-fire in the North African nation, which Turkey firmly denies.

France is also calling for crisis mechanism to prevent a repeat of an incident earlier this month between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean. NATO is investigating what happened.

France says its frigate Courbet was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking. The ship was being escorted by three Turkish warships. The Courbet backed off after being targeted.

The French frigate was part of Sea Guardian, NATO’s naval operation in the Mediterranean, at the time of the June 10 incident. France claims that under the alliance’s rules of engagement such conduct is considered a hostile act.

Turkey has denied harassing the Courbet. Turkey's ambassador to France was questioned in the French Senate on Wednesday and defended Turkey's actions as peaceful and crucial to restoring stability to Libya.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and different foreign governments.

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