Addressing the press alongside Tunisian President Kais Saied on Wednesday, he said he is sure that Tunis could provide valuable assistance in efforts to stabilise Libya.
“We are dealing with the legitimate government in Libya and its Presidential Council’s Head Fayez Al-Sarraj, while Khalifa Haftar is dealing with countries supporting him with weapons and money,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish president went on to identify 5,000 Sudanese mercenaries and Russian troops still in Libya, and argued that their presence in the country is illegal.
“We can’t leave our Libyan brothers under the mercy of the likes of Haftar,” he added, arguing that Haftar’s forces are an illegitimate body in the conflict.
President Erdogan landed in Tunisia on Christmas Day for a surprise visit for talks with his recently elected Tunisian counterpart, Reuters reported.
It comes as Mediterranean countries stand divided on Turkey’s controversial maritime delimitation deal with Tunisia’s neighbour Libya, which expanded Turkey’s claims over a large gas-rich area.
Turkey has been sharply criticised over the November military deal with Libya’s internationally recognised government, namely by Greece, which says the maritime agreement does not take into account the island of Crete.
President Erdogan’s meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied, the first by a head of state since he was elected in the autumn, could be an attempt to drum up support from other countries in the region.
Erdogan was accompanied by his foreign and defence ministers, and his intelligence chief, a statement by his office said.
There have been unconfirmed rumours on social media that an airplane belonging to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar also landed in Tunisia on Wednesday.
Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited eastern Libya’s Benghazi on Sunday, meeting representatives of strongman Khalifa Haftar’s administration amid tensions with Turkey.
Erdogan recently pledged to send troops to Libya at the request of Tripoli as soon as next month.
“Since there is an invitation [from Libya] right now, we will accept it,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party in a speech.
“We will put the bill on sending troops to Libya on the agenda as soon as parliament opens”.
The legislation would pass around Jan. 8-9, he said, opening the door to deployment.
However, it was unclear what specific invitation Erdogan was referring to, as the interior minister in the Tripoli-based government, Fathi Bashagha, suggested in comments to reporters in Tunis that no such official request had yet been made.
“If the situation escalates and then we have the right to defend Tripoli and its residents… we will submit an official request to the Turkish government to support us militarily so we expel the ghost of mercenary forces,” Bashagha said on Thursday.