Erdogan involves Libya in his maritime claims

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INTERNATIONAL diplomacy is about making friends and influencing people. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems determined to turn the principle on its head by making enemies and annoying them.

He has championed the Muslim Brotherhood and quietly sponsored Daesh (the so-called IS) terrorists by allowing them to move men and supplies through Turkey. He has betrayed NATO and his alliance with the United States by buying Russian anti-aircraft missiles and threatening to purchase Russian warplanes. He has poisoned the waters of the international campaign against terror by assaulting the Syrian Kurds who have done so much to combat Daesh. And now he is trying to make a grab for waters in the Eastern Mediterranean in defiance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Last week on the eve of the NATO summit in London, he let it be known through a diplomatic leak the details of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that he had reached with the head of Libya’s UN-recognized Presidency Council (PC). Effectively the deal lays claim to Exclusive Economic Zones 200 miles out from the Libyan and “Turkish” coasts, which actually join each other. While under the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya laid claim to the entire Gulf of Sirte, a deep and wide bay in the middle of the Libyan coast, the country has never made any formal claim to the sea that is included in the agreement with Erdogan, inked at the end of last month.

Moreover the Turkish claim is tendentious. Erdogan has chosen to measure the 200 miles from the coast of Cyprus, whose Republic in the North of the island was established in 1974 when Turkish troops invaded, in response to a coup organized from mainland Greece.

The MoU effectively annexes sea areas claimed by Egypt, Cyprus and Greece and is in direct contravention of the UNCLOS provisions. Erdogan has long sought to establish Turkish control over much of the area defined in this deal. What is new is that he has involved Libya in his controversial move. On the face of it, Libya with its already well-established largely onshore oil resources, has no need to join in such a controversial claim. But it seems clear that PC leader Fayez Al-Serraj was pressured into the deal, and it is easy to understand why. Serraj heads to Government of National Accord (GNA) which exists around Tripoli and of the West of the country largely thanks to the support of Muslim Brotherhood militias and opportunist armed gangs. He is entirely in their thrall. These bands, who claim mostly falsely, to be Thuwar, revolutionary fighters who overthrew Gaddafi, rely on the provision of arms, vehicles and covert military support from Turkey. Turkey in turn is funded and encouraged in its Libyan intervention by Qatar.

But Serraj may have backed himself into trouble. Both the EU and Washington have damned the MoU, each insisting it is provocative and unacceptable. The GNA is currently resisting an assault on Tripoli by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Hafter, who has the support of the House of Representatives, the parliament elected in 2014 and promptly forced out of the capital by an MB coup. The international community could finally be starting to think twice about their recognition of Serraj and his lawless militiamen.


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