Turkey warms up ties with Libyan rebels

Top Turkish officials met Monday with the head of the Libya’s National Transitional Council, or NTC, in what was seen as a signal of possible recognition of the rebels by Ankara.

NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to discuss the transitional process in the turmoil-hit country and the humanitarian aid needed by Libyans.

“We see the NTC as the legitimate and respected representative of the Libyan people. We will continue our talks with all relevant parties,” Davutoğlu told reporters at a joint press conference with Abdul-Jalil.

“What is important for us is to accomplish the transition process peacefully and to meet the demands of the people,” he added.

Hakan Fidan, the undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, was also present at the meeting between Davutoğlu and Abdul-Jalil.

The NTC chairman’s reception by Gül and Erdoğan on his first visit to Turkey appeared to be a clear show of Ankara’s support for the council. The visit came on the same day the European Union opened a representative office in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Turkey already has a representative in the Libyan city.

Outlining the pillars of Turkey’s policy on Libya, Davutoğlu said preserving the country’s territorial integrity and political unity was a priority. “For this, we have used all possible diplomatic ways, openly and secretly. We will continue to do so,” he said.

Criticizing Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s administration for attacking its own people, Davutoğlu said Turkey would continue to work for a peaceful transition in Libya through its road map.

Abdul-Jalil’s visit marks the highest-level contact to date between Turkey and the Libyan rebels following Ankara’s initial reluctance to back military action in the conflict-torn North African country. Turkey has proposed a “road map” to end the Libyan turmoil, urging an immediate cease-fire, the lifting of sieges by regime forces of rebel-held towns and the initiation of a “transformation process” that would lead to free elections.

“We support the road map created by our Turkish brothers and sisters. We support this plan that symbolizes and solidifies the needs of the Libyan people, including removing Gadhafi from the country,” Abdul-Jalil said.

Praising the historical ties between the two countries and the important role Turkish figures Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Enver Pasha played for Libya, Abdul-Jalil said: “We have understood Turkey’s stance from the beginning. They do not want bloodshed to continue. Libya awaits Turkey’s support.”

Turkey severed ties with the Gadhafi administration in early May after it closed its embassy in Tripoli and Erdoğan urged the Libyan leader to “immediately” cede power and leave the country.

Extending humanitarian aid

Another key issue discussed in Ankara was the Turkish government’s possible humanitarian aid to the Libyan people.

“We have discussed the humanitarian situation in Libya as well. In particular, the situation of the refugees in Tunisia, the [lack of] hospitals and other infrastructure,” Davutoğlu said. “Turkey will do its best to provide assistance to Libya. In this framework we’ll continue to work together [with the NTC].”

Abdul-Jalil was also seeking financial assistance in the NTC’s struggles against the Gadhafi regime.