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EU seeks Libya ceasefire, end to Turkish 'interference'

BRUSSELS – The European Union called Tuesday on Turkey to stop its “interference” in conflict-ravaged Libya and appealed to forces fighting in the northern African country to call a ceasefire around the capital, Tripoli.

Speaking after talks with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Turkey’s decision to deploy troops “is something that we reject and increases our worries about the situation in Libya.”

“The over-riding urgency is to stop the fighting in and around Tripoli,” Borrell said. “Any escalation and also any outside interference will only make the conflict more protracted, bring more misery to ordinary people in Libya, exacerbate divisions in the country and increase the risk of its partition.”

Libya is governed by dueling authorities, one based in the east and one in Tripoli in the west, with each relying on different militias for support. The east-based government is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. The U.N.-backed government in Tripoli receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

The government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj has faced an offensive by rival eastern forces loyal to commander Gen. Khalifa Hifter. The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violent chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

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.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkish soldiers were “already going gradually” to Libya. He said Turkish soldiers were tasked with “coordination” at a command center.

Borrell said the fighting in Libya “is worsening day by day and the solution … has to be a political negotiation.” His meeting with the four European foreign ministers had been scheduled to take place in Tripoli but was shifted to Brussels for security reasons.

The group said later in a joint statement that “the more Libyan warring parties rely on foreign military assistance, the more they give external actors undue influence on sovereign Libyan decisions.”

The statement cited “in particular” the need to avoid the signing of agreements “which create a pretext for external interference” that serves neither Libya nor European interests.

As tensions rise, Libya's North African neighbors, notably Algeria and Tunisia, became part of a flurry of diplomacy. Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum met on Tuesday in Algiers with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu — who was to meet in the evening with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Sarraj, prime minister for the U.N.-backed government, traveled on Monday to Algeria for a meeting with that nation's recently elected president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who stressed Algeria's position of non-interference, the official APS news agency said. Tebboune called on the international community to "impose an immediate cease-fire,” without saying how that could be done.