France withdraws from NATO operation amid major row with Turkey: report

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French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan walk during a joint press conference on January 5, 2018, at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Erdogan will attempt to reset relations with Europe at talks with Macron in Paris on January 5 that are likely to be overshadowed by human rights concerns. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / LUDOVIC MARIN

France has temporarily pulled out of a NATO security operation amid a major row with Turkey, according to BBC.

The defense ministry said France had suspended its role in Operation Sea Guardian, accusing Turkey of violating an arms embargo against Libya.

It comes weeks after Turkish ships allegedly targeted a French warship in the Mediterranean – something Ankara strongly denies.

The NATO allies are thought to support different sides in Libya’s civil war.

Riven by violence since Col. Muammar Gaddafi was deposed by NATO-backed forces in 2011, the oil-rich nation is a key transit point for migrants heading to Europe from Africa.

Currently, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) is battling against the forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, which control large parts of the east and south of Libya.

French relations with Turkey have become increasingly strained in recent months because of the Libya crisis, Turkey’s role in northern Syria, and also drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.

But the key incident came on June 10, when French frigate Courbet went to inspect a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship, Cirkin, off the coast of Libya, to check if it was smuggling arms.

At the time the French ship was taking part in NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian, which among other things maintains freedom of navigation and plays a “maritime counter-terrorism” role.

What happened next is still under dispute. According to French defense forces, Turkish ships escorting the Cirkin — which they said was carrying medical supplies — acted aggressively to the Courbet, and even targeted it with their weapons systems three times.

Turkey denies the French allegation, saying the interaction was friendly. France has since asked NATO to investigate the incident.

Both countries have traded insults in recent weeks. On Monday French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey of “historic and criminal responsibility” in the Libyan conflict, “for a country which claims to be a NATO member.”

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said on Tuesday that France had been “destructive” in the North African nation and accused the country of trying “to increase Russia’s presence in Libya.” On Thursday he asked France to apologize for its allegations about the Courbet.

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