Turks kidnapped in Libya freed after ultimatum

Turks kidnapped in Libya freed after ultimatum

Turks kidnapped in Libya freed after ultimatum

Six Turks detained in Libya by forces loyal to Commander Khalifa Haftar have been released, Turkey’s foreign ministry said on July 1, a day after it warned the militia would become a “legitimate target” unless they were released immediately.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said those released wanted to keep working rather than return to Turkey. The sailors wanted to continue their job with the company with which they have a contract, he added.

On June 30, the Turkish Foreign Ministry demanded that Haftar’s illegal militia – which calls itself the “Libyan National Army” (LNA), immediately release the six Turkish citizens they had detained in Libya or otherwise, face becoming a legitimate target of the Turkish military.

“The price of hostile attitudes or attacks will be heavy. They will be responded to with the most efficient and hard manner,” Hulusi Akar told Anadolu Agency in Osaka city, Japan.

The Turkish Embassy in Tripoli on its website advised its citizens on June 30 to avoid any steps that will jeopardize their security and safety in territory under control of the illegal militia loyal to Haftar.

Libya has remained beset by turmoil since 2011 when a bloody NATO-backed uprising led to the ouster and death of long-serving President Muammar Gaddafi after more than four decades in power.

Since then, Libya’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of power -- one in Tobruk and another in Tripoli -- and a host of heavily armed militia groups.

Turkey supports the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. Haftar’s Libyan National Force (LNA) launched a campaign on April 4 to try and seize the Libyan capital but has been pushed back by the Tripoli government’s forces.

The forces loyal to Haftar said they destroyed a Turkish drone parked at Tripoli’s only working airport on Sunday and declared a “general mobilization” as tensions between Ankara and the eastern administration mounted.

Haftar and his backers say they are trying to free Tripoli from militias that they accuse of destabilizing Libya since the fall of Gaddafi. Haftar’s administration cut all ties with Turkey on June 28, banning its flights and ships from eastern Libya.

Haftar’s critics, including Turkey, accuse him of trying to seize power from the legitimate government through force and deepening a conflict between factions based in the east and west of the sprawling North African country.

The LNA said on July 1 it will start heavy air strikes on targets in Tripoli after “traditional means” of war had been exhausted to “liberate” the capital city, said Commander Mohammed Manfour.

The LNA has failed to take Tripoli during three months of fighting and last week lost its main forward base in Gharyan, which was taken back by Tripoli forces.