Turkey’s Vice President Oktay storms out of Libya conference in Italy
ANKARA / AP
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay has stormed out of an international conference on Libya organized in Italy over what he described as “attempts to keep Turkey out of the process” in the northern African country.
Oktay walked out after eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar joined a meeting on the conference’s sidelines with his United Nations-backed rival Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and other leaders, but not Turkey, according to the Associated Press.
“Unfortunately, the international community could not manage to unify this morning. Some intervened unilaterally by abusing Italy’s host status as a last minute fait accompli,” Oktay said in a written statement.
The Turkish vice president also accused “some countries” without naming them for “trying to cripple the process [of transformation in Libya] for their own interests.”
Before leaving, Oktay and EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini met in Palermo on the sidelines of the conference.
During the closed-door meeting, the two dignitaries also spoke about the efforts to further expand Turkish-EU relations.
Oktay and Mogherini also discussed EU funds, which have not been transferred to Syrian target groups in Turkey due to excessive rules arising from EU legislation.
Conte's hopes on bringing law to Libya
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hosted a meeting Nov. 13 of Libya’s rival leaders on the sidelines of a conference aiming to help its former colony crack down on Islamist militants and human trafficking.
Photos of the encounter show Conte presiding over a handshake between Serraj and Haftar.
“I feel sorry that Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay left the conference. I read his remarks and I didn’t see anything negative about Italy. We must admit that there may be special sensitivities in such decisions,” Conte told reporters after the event.
Other leaders attending the Palermo conference, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, also participated. The office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who backs Haftar, confirmed he joined the “mini-summit” Nov. 13 with Conte and other leaders.
Italy’s populist government organized the two-day conference in hopes of making progress on ending Libya’s lawlessness and promoting a U.N. framework for eventual elections.
But expectations were limited, with Haftar’s camp making clear that he was not participating in the conference itself but rather meeting with leaders of neighboring countries on the sidelines. Neither Haftar nor el-Sissi posed for the final conference group photo.
Haftar accuses Qatar-backed militia
A statement on social media Nov. 13 by a spokesman for Haftar’s army, Ahmed al-Mesmari, suggested that Haftar was snubbing the meeting because he accuses representatives from the Tripoli side of working with militias he considers illegitimate, as well as Islamist extremists backed by Qatar.
However, an Italian diplomatic official, briefing reporters in Palermo, said the atmosphere of the meeting was cordial and collaborative.
Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gadhafi, and it is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west with both relying on the support of militias.
It has also become a haven for Islamist militants and armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking, particularly in the remote south of the country.
Italy’s anti-migrant government is keen in particular to stem the Libyan-based migrant smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of would-be refugees to Europe via Italy in recent years.