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Turkish military official denies claim that French warship was harassed

Paris says Turkey's navy targeted a French warship checking whether a Turkish vessel was smuggling arms to Libya
A Turkish military official said the French warship did not establish communications with the Turkish ship during the incident (File pic - AFP)

A senior Turkish military official has said it was "completely untrue" that Turkey's navy harassed a French warship on a Nato mission during an incident which occurred a few weeks ago.

An official at France's defence ministry told Reuters on Wednesday that the French warship had wanted to check whether the Turkish vessel Cirkin was smuggling arms to Libya, an act forbidden under a UN embargo.

In response, French officials said the Cirkin had switched off its tracking system, masked its ID number, and refused to say where it was going.

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Turkish frigates carried out radar targeting against the French warship three times, suggesting a missile strike was imminent, France's defence ministry said.

"This is an extremely aggressive act that is unacceptable by an ally against a Nato ship," a French defence ministry official, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

It was unclear if it was the same official who had spoken to Reuters.

"We consider this an extremely grave matter," the official added. "We cannot accept that an ally behaves this way, that it does this against a Nato ship, under Nato command, carrying out a Nato mission."

A Turkish military official told Reuters the French warship did not establish communications with the Turkish ship during the incident.

"If one takes into account that the French warship was refuelled by our side before the alleged incident, it is clear how inappropriate and intentional the allegation is," he said.

"Turkey is fulfilling its obligations as an ally today as always," the Turkish military official said. "It has saddened us that the matter has reached this stage."

'Hostile and aggressive' manner

In a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll accused Turkey's navy of acting in a "hostile and aggressive" manner towards its Nato allies to prevent them from enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya. 

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The violations, she added, were the main obstacles to achieving peace and stability in the North African nation.

The disclosure of the incident came as Nato defence ministers held talks via video conference on Wednesday.

Turkey, which backs the internationally recognised government in Tripoli, has secured a foothold in Libya by helping to repel an assault on the capital by the self-styled Libyan National Army of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar, who has suffered a series of defeats in recent weeks, is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.