Duvar English - Reuters
Eastern-based Libyan forces have intercepted a Turkish ship under a Jamaican flag heading to the port of Misrata in western Libya, their spokesman said on Dec. 7, a possible new flashpoint in the conflict after weeks of truce.
Turkey is the main foreign backer of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), in the west, which has for years been fighting the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Khalifa Haftar.
LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said that the commercial cargo ship, Mabrouka, had 17 crew, including nine Turkish nationals, and containers that had not yet been inspected. LNA naval forces stopped it near the eastern port of Derna, he said.
He also said on his social media account that the Jamaican-flagged commercial cargo ship Mebruka, whose owner is stated to be a Turk, was caught by Haftar’s militia. The militia claims the ship entered a prohibited area and did not respond to calls and withdrew to the port of Ras al-Hilal.
Al-Mismari added that the ship was "investigated and inspected because it violated maritime rules and laws.”
He also told the Al-Hadath television channel that the ship was loaded with drugs to be taken to Misrata but entered the forbidden area.
Claiming they made a call to the ship but did not receive a response, Mismari said: "We approached the ship with boats and boarded it.”
The captain did not follow the procedures and the ship entered the prohibited area without permission, he said, adding there were no weapons on board.
A Turkish source who requested anonymity said the ship was carrying medicine and other medical products from Egypt to Libya, and it was expected to be released soon.
"Patients who urgently need the medicines and blood products on that ship are waiting in Libya. It is clear that there are no weapons or anything else," the person said. "Such seizures are not right."
The person added the LNA may have been emboldened by the European Union's Irini Operation, a military mission enforcing an arms embargo on Libya that irked Ankara when it searched a Turkish vessel last month.
The GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire deal in October and the United Nations has been pushing a political dialogue aimed at elections next year as a solution to Libya's long-running conflict.
But both sides have stopped short of withdrawing forces from the front line, as demanded by the truce, while an incident in southern Libya on Dec. 6, when LNA forces seized a military camp, has further tested the agreement.
Earlier on Dec. 7, Mismari accused Turkey of continuing to supply arms and fighters to the GNA. The LNA is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
A panel of U.N. experts has cited the foreign supporters of both sides as breaching an arms embargo on Libya.