Turkey on Thursday dismissed as “groundless” allegations by France that Turkish frigates had been “extremely aggressive” towards a French navy vessel participating in a NATO mission in the Mediterranean.
“It is clear the allegations are groundless and deliberate,” said a senior Turkish military official who did not wish to be named, after the French defence ministry on Wednesday denounced the frigates’ action as “unacceptable by an ally”.
France said its sailors were trying to check a cargo ship on suspicion it was taking arms to Libya — forbidden under a UN embargo.
Turkish frigates carried out radar targeting three times, suggesting a missile strike was imminent, the unnamed French defence ministry official said.
But the Turkish military official said the French vessel conducted a “high-speed and dangerous manoeuvre… that was in violation of safety rules at sea and NATO procedures”.
The Turkish ship only “observed the vessel with the camera integrated into the fire-control radar”, the official said, as a safety measure.
“There was no communication relay from the French ship to our ship during the incident.”
French Defence Minister Florence Parly brought the matter up during a videoconference with her NATO counterparts on Wednesday, her office said.
Relations between France and Turkey have become strained in recent months over Ankara’s backing of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
Since security and maritime deals were signed late last year, Turkey has stepped up its support of the GNA with drones, military advisors and sending Syrian fighters.
This support has helped turn the tide in the conflict after military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture Tripoli from the GNA.
A French presidential official on Sunday lambasted Turkey’s “aggressive” intervention in the Libya conflict, and accused Ankara of violating a UN arms embargo.
Although France publicly denies the claim, Paris has long been suspected of favouring Haftar, who has the backing of Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
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