By SAMUEL PETREQUIN and ZEYNEP BILGINSOY
BRUSSELS (AP) — Turkey and Russia called for a cease-fire in war-torn Libya on Wednesday while European Union officials intensified their diplomatic efforts to cool tensions by holding talks with the north African country’s prime minister.
Following a meeting in Istanbul, the Turkish and Russian presidents called for the cease-fire to start at midnight on Jan. 12.
“Seeking a military solution to the ongoing conflict in Libya only causes further suffering and deepens the divisions among Libyans. Securing an immediate cease-fire is the foremost priority to start an inclusive intra-Libyan political process under the U.N. auspices,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said in a joint statement
Turkey is supporting the embattled U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli and has begun sending Turkish soldiers for training and coordination, while Russia has backed the rival eastern-based forces of Gen. Khalifa Hifter.
“We have been following with great concern the recent developments, particularly the intensified fighting around Tripoli, in long suffering Libya,” Putin and Erdogan said. “The worsening situation in Libya is undermining the security and stability of Libya’s wider neighborhood, the entire Mediterranean region, as well as the African continent, triggering irregular migration, further spread of weapons, terrorism and other criminal activities including illicit trafficking.”
Meanwhile in Brussels, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj met with European Council President Charles Michel and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
Hifter traveled to Rome on Wednesday on a previously unannounced visit to meet with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte. An Italian government spokesman, Rocco Casalino, said Serraj was expected to meet with Conte later in the evening.
A day after the EU’s top diplomat and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy condemned Turkey’s plans to deploy troops to his country, Sarraj was also scheduled to discuss the crisis with European Parliament president David Sassoli.
“Michel expressed concerns about the worrying military escalations in Libya. He underlined that there is no military solution to the Libyan crisis, only a political process can bring peace and stability closer,” the European Council said in a statement. “Libyans should be at the heart of defining their own future. The European Union will step up efforts towards a peaceful and political solution.”
Libya is currently governed by dueling authorities, in the east and the west, each relying on different militias. The east-based government is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. The western, Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.
Sarraj’s government has faced an offensive by rival eastern forces loyal to Hifter and the fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violent chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Borrell said before the meeting that the situation in Libya “is very dangerous” and “we are maybe facing a watershed point.”
Turkey’s parliament authorized the deployment of troops to Libya last Thursday, following a separate deal on sending military experts and weapons signed into law in December.
In a period of intense diplomatic activity at the EU level, Michel, will travel to Turkey on Saturday for a meeting with Erdogan to reiterate the EU’s message of de-escalation. Michel will then make a stop in Cairo to discuss the crisis with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Michel also raised objections to the maritime pact sealed last year by Turkey and Libya that has fueled tensions, particularly over drilling rights for gas and oil exploration.
The agreement would give Turkey and Libya access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean despite the objections of Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which lie between the two geographically. All three countries have blasted the deal as being contrary to international law.
According to the European Council’s statement, Michel told Sarraj that the deal “infringes upon the sovereign rights of third States and does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third States.”
Zeynep Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Rome.
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