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article imageSix Turks held in Libya as Haftar claims Turkish drone destroyed

By Imed Lamloum with Raziye Akkoc in Ankara (AFP)     Jun 30, 2019 in World

Turkey said Sunday six of its nationals were being held by forces led by Khalifa Haftar, as the Libyan strongman's troops said they had destroyed a Turkish drone in Tripoli.

Haftar ordered attacks on Turkish assets after he lost a key town to forces backing Libya's internationally recognised government, also supported by Ankara.

Turkey's foreign ministry said Sunday that "the detention of six of our citizens by illegal militia forces linked to Haftar is an act of thuggery and piracy."

"We expect our citizens to be immediately released," it said in a statement.

"Should this not happen, Haftar elements will become legitimate targets."

It did not give details on where the Turks were being held or when they had been detained, and a ministry source told AFP there was "no additional information to give at this stage".

Haftar's forces, which hold much of eastern and southern Libya, launched an offensive in early April to seize the capital from the internationally recognised unity government.

Both sides have accused each other of receiving backing from foreign powers.

After Haftar lost the strategic city of Gharyan to pro-unity government forces in an operation he accused Ankara of backing, he ordered his forces to target Turkish companies, ban flights and arrest Turkish nationals in Libya, his spokesman said Friday.

The Turkish embassy in Tripoli  a sign of Ankara's support for the internationally recognised G...
The Turkish embassy in Tripoli, a sign of Ankara's support for the internationally recognised Government of National Accord fighting the forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar.

On Sunday, his forces said they had destroyed a Turkish drone in a strike on an airport in Tripoli.

"Our fighter (jets) targeted and destroyed a Turkish Bayraktar aircraft as it was taking off" from Mitiga airport, Haftar's self-style Libyan National Army said in a statement on Facebook.

"The aircraft had been prepared to target our armed forces' positions," it said.

An airport official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a raid had targeted a runway without causing casualties or damage.

Airport authorities had suspended flights following the air strike, but later Sunday evening announced that flights had resumed "after repairing the runway."

- Turkey vows 'heavy price' -

Libya was plunged into a bloody power struggle between an array of militias following a NATO-backed uprising that led to dictator Moamer Kadhafi's downfall and death in 2011.

Haftar was a retired general who had taken part in the revolt against Kadhafi, but in May 2014 he launched his assault to purge the country of Islamist "terrorists".

Earlier on Sunday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar warned there would be a "heavy price for hostile attitudes or attacks".

"We will retaliate in the most effective and strong way," Akar told state news agency Anadolu.

Turkey has a keen interest in Libya, which was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912 when the north African country was conquered by Italy.

Libya's unity government has accused Haftar of receiving weapons from US ally the United Arab E...
Libya's unity government has accused Haftar of receiving weapons from US ally the United Arab Emirates
-, AFP

Libya has also become a key battleground in a regional struggle between backers and opponents of Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Turkey's ruling AKP is affiliated.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed his country backs the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and provides weapons to it under a "military cooperation agreement".

He told reporters on June 20 that Turkish backing had allowed Tripoli to "rebalance" the fight against Haftar, who has the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last month criticised "some countries" for supply Haftar with weapons and ammunition.

On Saturday, unity government forces showed journalists weapons they said they had seized after ousting Haftar's forces from Gharyan.

They included US-made Javelin anti-tank missiles and seven Chinese-made Norinco GP6 artillery weapons packed in wooden crates marked "United Arab Emirates armed forces".

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