BRUSSELS (AP) – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that the military alliance would investigate an incident between Turkish warships and a French navy ship in the Mediterranean as France accused Turkey of repeated violations of the UN arms embargo against conflict-torn conflicts Libya and labeled Ankara as an obstacle to secure a ceasefire there.
According to a French defense official, the Courbet frigate was ‘illuminated’ three times by a Turkish navy radar when it attempted to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in the arms trade. The ship was accompanied by three Turkish warships. The Courbet withdrew after being targeted.
The French frigate was part of the NATO operation at sea in the Mediterranean, Sea Guardian, at the time of the June 10 incident. France claims that under the alliance’s rules, such behavior is considered a hostile act. Turkey has denied harassing the Courbet.
“We ensured that NATO military authorities investigate the incident to provide full clarity on what happened,” Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing a video meeting between NATO defense ministers, saying that issue was addressed by several participants.
“I think this is the best way to deal with that now, clarify what really happened,” he added.
Speaking to a French Senate committee, Defense Minister Florence Parly said eight NATO member states support Paris during the incident, which she described as “serious and unacceptable.”
In a statement ahead of the NATO meeting, the French foreign ministry focused on Ankara, saying that “the main obstacle to achieving peace and stability in Libya today lies in the systematic violation of the UN arms embargo , notably by Turkey, despite the commitments made in Berlin, ”said early this year.
The European Union has a naval operation in the Mediterranean region aimed at helping to maintain the embargo, but Turkey, a NATO member whose efforts to join the EU have stalled, suspects it is too one-sided, with emphasis on the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli, which supports Turkey.
When asked whether the 30 members of the military alliance should respect the arms embargo, Stoltenberg said that “NATO naturally supports the implementation of UN decisions, including UN arms embargoes.”
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 West, each supported by armed groups and various foreign governments.
The government in Tripoli led by Fayez Sarraj is supported not only by Turkey, which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January, but also by Italy and Qatar. Rival forces commanded by Khalifa Hifter, who launched an offensive on Tripoli last year, are supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries.
“Turkey’s support for the government’s offensive under the national agreement runs directly counter to efforts to achieve a ceasefire that we support,” the French ministry said. “This support is compounded by the hostile and unacceptable actions of Turkish naval forces towards NATO allies, which seek to undermine efforts to maintain the UN arms embargo.”
“This behavior, like all foreign interference in the Libyan conflict, must be stopped,” it warned.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell seeks to secure NATO support for Europe’s own naval effort, Operation Irini, possibly in part to prevent such incidents in the future, but diplomats and officials have said Turkey has made such movements will likely block.
Borrell, who participated in the NATO video meeting, said on Wednesday that he hopes that an “EU-NATO cooperation agreement can be concluded” soon, as enforcement of the arms embargo is in the interests of the security of both organizations. .
Asked Wednesday what the response could be, Stoltenberg said: “We are looking for possible support, possible cooperation, but no decision has been made. There is dialogue, contacts, that address that while we speak. ”
Borrell has highlighted some of the challenges facing the EU’s sea operation. He said that last week the staff attempted to contact a “suspected” Tanzanian freighter escorted by two Turkish warships. He said the ship refused to respond, but the Turkish escort said the cargo was medical equipment bound for Libya.
The EU operation tried to verify the information with the Turkish and Tanzanian authorities and reported the incident to the United Nations, but it couldn’t do more, he said.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.
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