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Turkish parliament approves security deal with Libya

US raises concerns about escalation in Libya after reports of Russian mercenaries on the ground
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to media next to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after the Global Refugee Forum at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland (Reuters)

Turkey’s parliament on Saturday approved a security and military cooperation deal signed with Libya's internationally recognised government, as the US said it was very concerned about the intensification of the conflict in the divided African country.

According to an official speaking to Reuters, the US is worried by the rising number of reported Russian mercenaries supporting Khalifa Haftar's forces on the ground.

The United States continues to recognise the Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Serraj, the official said, but added that Washington is not taking sides in the conflict and is talking to all stakeholders who could be influential in trying to forge an agreement.

"With the increased numbers of reported Wagner forces and mercenaries on the ground, we think it's changing the landscape of the conflict and intensifying it," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to a shadowy group of mercenaries known as Wagner.

Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps based in the capital Tripoli and the east. Serraj's government is in conflict with forces led by Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya.

Haftar is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and most recently Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials.

Turkey has been backing the Serraj government as it fights off Haftar's forces.

Ankara has already sent military supplies to Libya in violation of a United Nations arms embargo, according to a report by UN experts seen by Reuters last month.

Mediterranean cooperation

Serraj signed the deal with Ankara in November to boost military cooperation along with a separate accord on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean that has enraged Greece.

On Saturday, the state-run Anadolu news agency said Turkey's parliament voted 269-125 in favour of the security accord after the GNA ratified it on Thursday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey could deploy troops to Libya in support of the GNA but no request has yet been made.

He said on Friday that Turkey could not remain silent over Russian-backed mercenaries backing Haftar's forces.

The US official told Reuters that understanding between the GNA and Erdogan on maritime cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean was "unhelpful" and "provocative".

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"Now with the maritime boundaries, you're drawing in Greece and Cyprus... From the United States' perspective, this is a concern... It's not the time to be provoking more instability in the Mediterranean," the official said.

Russia, meanwhile, said it was very concerned about the possibility of Turkey deploying troops in Libya and that the security deal raised many questions for Moscow.

Erdogan will discuss Ankara's potential troop deployment to Libya with Russian President Vladimir Putin during talks in Turkey next month, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

Speaking on Saturday, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said the accords with Libya were historic for Turkey and added that Ankara was ready to evaluate possible troop deployment.