Turkey’s president on Tuesday said Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar has no official recognition either in the war-weary country or the international community.
"Haftar is a mercenary, a paid soldier," Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a press conference in Senegal with his counterpart Macky Sall, adding that Haftar took refuge in the U.S. in the 1990s following his betrayal of then-leader Muammar Qaddafi.
He went on to say that Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) is recognized by the UN Security Council and should not be grouped in with the warlord Haftar.
Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: Haftar’S in eastern Libya, supported mainly by Egypt and the UAE, and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.
Haftar is taking military steps with financial support provided by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, Erdogan added.
Haftar has not sought to reach a political agreement to resolve the Libya dispute and he enjoys the support of Russian paramilitaries the Wagner Group, he said, calling them “mercenaries.”
Erdogan said claims the crisis in Libya will be quickly resolved are misguided, decrying how Haftar did not even attend peace meetings held by regional and international actors in Tunisia, Moscow, and Germany, where he "hid in a hotel room."
It would be better if the crisis in Libya moved towards a political process instead of a military one and Libyans determine their own future, he said.
Ties with Senegal
On Turkey’s ties with Senegal, Erdogan said after they successfully met a previous trade goal of $400 million, now the countries have set a trade volume goal of a $1 billion, and both countries have great potential.
“With its 2025 goal, Senegal sets an example for other regional countries,” he said, adding that Turkish firms help this by providing support in fields such as construction, transportation, health, and infrastructure.
Praising Senegal for “understanding” Turkey’s fight against the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), he said 13 schools in the country previously run by the terror group now operate under Turkey’s Maarif Foundation while the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency extends a helping hand to sustainable development activities.
FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.
FETO has a considerable presence abroad, including private schools which serve as a revenue stream for the terror group.
The Maarif Foundation was founded to take over former FETO schools and establish new schools.
“We have historical and cultural ties; drawing inspiration from our common past, we want to build a future,” said Erdogan, adding that Senegal has importance in Turkey’s vision of Africa.
Under the government’s African outreach, Erdogan said he had visited the continent a total of 28 times since coming to power in 2002.
"We see African peoples as our brothers," he said. "We view the sufferings of Africa from a humanitarian and conscious lens, not through a political, strategic or interest-based approach."
Erdogan said Turkey would “never forsake Senegal” in helping its defense industry, as both sides are determined to take steps in the tourism and energy sectors and strengthen relations.
Erdogan said the Africa continent will shine in the 21st century and Turkey is willing to boost its collaboration in the region with common projects.
U.S. President Donald Trump telephoned him to offer condolences in the wake of last week’s deadly quake, he said, and they discussed developments in both Libya and Idlib, northwestern Syria, which has been subjected to heavy attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies.
The Turkish president said Ankara was aware of the move towards its borderline from Idlib city amid forced migration of locals due to regime and allies' aggression, adding: "We have taken our precautions."
Remarks by Senegalese president
Senegalese President Macky Sall, for his part, said Turkish companies played a vital role in the infrastructure and development projects of the country and both countries' relations have deepened in the past few years in line with policies based on friendship and collaboration.
The president went on to say that Turkish companies were present in projects including Dakar Blaise Diagne International Airport, an international conference center, Dakar Area sports hall, exhibition center and railway construction.
Sall said countries' cooperation in construction would continue as the foundation of a large Olympic stadium would be laid in February.
A total of seven agreements were signed during Erdogan's trip to Senegal, he said, but added that countries have not fully reached their potential yet.
He said Senegal was happy to take side with Turkey in its fight against terrorism, adding the two also discussed the developments in Libya and other international issues.