Turkey accuses France of overstepping UN Libya mandate

Ahmet Davutoglu.jpg

EU hopeful and NATO member Turkey is expected today (22 March) to block a decision by the Alliance to take over leadership in securing the no-fly zone over Libya. In an apparent tit-for-tat response to France's reluctance to back its EU bid, Ankara is questioning the legal base of the coalition's operations in Libya.

NATO member Turkey says it is unable to agree to the Western military alliance taking over enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya if the scope of the operation goes beyond what the United Nations has sanctioned. France launched the first air strikes on Muammar Gaddafi's forces on Saturday to initiate the international coalition's intervention in Libya (see 'Background').

NATO officials are due to resume talks in Brussels on Tuesday after failing to reach an agreement on Monday.

"There are UN decisions and these decisions clearly have a defined framework. A NATO operation which goes outside this framework cannot be legitimised," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu told news channel CNN Turk on Monday evening.

Turkey, a Muslim member of the Western alliance, said a summit in Paris on Saturday between international leaders had led to military intervention that went outside the UN framework.

Turkey did not attend the summit. According to the Turkish press, Ankara was offended by not being invited to it.

"We naturally question the Paris meeting," Davuto?lu said.

"Turkey can make such efforts for the welfare of the Libyan people, but unfortunately the Paris meeting created a new situation outside of this framework," he added.

"The decision's authority and umbrella must be the United Nations," he said.

Aside from Turkey's objections, the other main stumbling block to an agreement in NATO is France's reluctance to see the alliance take the lead role, which Paris fears would alienate Arab countries and diminish political support for the operation.

After weeks of deliberations, NATO ambassadors approved an operations plan on Sunday for NATO to help enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya, and had sought on Monday to agree to implement it and finalise plans for an alliance role in the no-fly zone.

State-run Anatolian news agency said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdo?an discussed the situation in Libya with US President Barack Obama by telephone on Monday evening.

Erdo?an had held a one-and-a-half hour meeting with his foreign and defence ministers, the head of the armed forces, General I??k Ko?aner, and the undersecretary of the MIT intelligence service.

NATO involvement would require unanimous political support from all 28 alliance members, and on Monday Erdo?an said Turkey wanted several conditions met for such a role.

The international military operation against Gaddafi's forces should be concluded as soon as possible, he said, so Libyans could settle their own future. He also said military intervention should avoid ending in an occupation.

Turkey had business ties worth some $15.3 billion with Libya before the uprising against Gaddafi began a month ago, mostly in construction.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Editorialist Lale Kemal writes in Turkish daily Zaman that as a predominantly Muslim nation, Turkey's concern over NATO's involvement in military action in a fellow Muslim country can be understandable to a certain extent.

"But if Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been mercilessly killing his own citizens with his war machine and a Western coalition has come to their aid, as a long-time member of the alliance and as a Muslim nation, Turkey has the responsibility to support NATO's contribution to the UN-led military operation in Libya. This is despite the fact that collateral damage is unavoidable in such operations," Lale Kemal argues.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted a 'Summit for the support of the Libyan People' on 19 March in Paris. Immediately after the summit, military operations against Gaddafi's forces were launched.

The coalition has grown to 10 nations (France, UK, USA, Canada, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Qatar, Belgium). The United States, with its massive force and sophisticated weaponry, play a discrete, but fundamental role.

French planes fired the first shots in what is the biggest international military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles in the region of the rebels' eastern stronghold, Benghazi.

Hours later, US and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles against air defences around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gaddafi's forces.

On the second day of the operation, it was reported that 50% of Libya's air defences had been destroyed.

Some analysts have questioned the strategy of the military intervention, fearing Western forces might be sucked into a long civil war.

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