Turkey has condemned the interception of one of its ships by eastern-based Libyan forces in the Mediterranean Sea, saying it must be allowed to resume its journey while warning of reprisals.
Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) said on Monday it intercepted the Turkish ship Mabrouka, under a Jamaican flag, that was heading to the port of Misrata.
A Turkish source said on Tuesday the vessel was carrying medicine and medical products.
In a statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said steps to ensure the vessel resumes its journey must be taken immediately and warned those targeting Turkish interests in Libya would be deemed “legitimate targets”.
“In a period when the political process under UN auspices is under way between our Libyan brothers, Haftar and his militia are continuing their hostile stance,” the ministry said.
“Targeting Turkish interests in Libya will have grave consequences, and these elements will be viewed as legitimate targets.”
Turkey is the main foreign backer of Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which has for years been fighting the LNA.
In October, the GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire deal and the United Nations has been pushing a political dialogue aimed at elections next year as a solution.
Haftar’s forces stopped the vessel off the eastern port town of Derna, said Ahmed al-Mosmari, an LNA spokesman.
The vessel’s crew includes nine Turkish sailors, seven from India, and one from Azerbaijan. Al-Mosmari said the ship entered a “no sail” zone and did not respond to calls from the naval forces.
The private security firm Dryad Global said in a statement the vessel was sailing from Egypt’s Port Said to Libya’s Mediterranean city of Misrata. It said satellite imagery on Tuesday showed the ship was held at Ras al-Hilal port, which is controlled by the LNA.
Turkey has sent military equipment, advisers and trainers to the GNA turning the tide of the conflict. The LNA is backed by Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, which have heavily supplied Haftar’s troops.
Both sides have stopped short of withdrawing forces from the front line as demanded by the truce.
A panel of UN experts has cited the foreign supporters of both sides as routinely breaching an arms embargo on Libya.
Last month, Turkey and Germany traded barbs over the search of a Turkish ship by a European Union military mission in the Mediterranean aimed at enforcing the arms embargo, a move Ankara called illegal.
Libya has been split west to east since it descended into chaos following the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.