Egyptian delegation visits Libyan capital and meets with government in Tripoli

CAIRO (AP) – Egyptian diplomats and intelligence officials arrived in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Sunday, said Libyan officials, the highest Egyptian delegation to visit the western part of the conflicted country in years.

The Egyptian delegation was headed by Ayman Badea, the deputy head of the General Intelligence Service, the Egyptian version of the CIA. The delegation met Fathi Bashagha, the powerful interior minister in the Tripoli-based government, as well as Emad Trapolsi, intelligence chief in western Libya.

Bashagha’s office said in a statement that it discussed “mutual security challenges and ways to strengthen security cooperation.” They also discussed ways to support a UN-brokered ceasefire agreement that warring parties in Libya reached in October, the statement said.

Oil-rich Libya is currently divided between the UN-backed government in Tripoli and a rival administration based in the city of Benghazi that controls the east and south of the country. The country was plunged into chaos after the NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Egypt views the instability of neighboring Libya as a threat to national security.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are supporting the eastern forces, led by military commander Khalifa Hifter. The government in Tripoli has mostly backing from Turkey, whose military backing helped bring about the collapse this spring of Hifter’s year-long attempt to capture Tripoli.

There was no official comment from Egypt about the visit and a foreign ministry spokesperson did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

The visit to western Libya came just over a week after Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel met in Benghazi Hifter and Benghazi-based parliament speaker Aguila Saleh.

Bashagha, the Tripoli-based interior minister, is seeking to lead an interim government that would rule Libya until elections slated for next December. He visited Cairo in November, as part of the two countries’ efforts to “fight the threat of terrorism and organized crime,” his office said at the time.

The Egyptian delegation’s visit also came a day after Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, along with Army Chief of Staff Yasar Guler and other commanders, met with officials in Tripoli.

In comments published on Sunday by the official Turkish news agency Anadolu, Akar threatened to target Hifter’s forces if there were any attacks on Turkish forces in Libya. He called Hifter and his supporters the “main problem” in Libya, an apparent reference to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Akar’s comments appeared to be in response to Hifter, who said last week he would target Turkish troops in Libya if Ankara didn’t stop interfering in the country. He said Turkey could “leave peacefully or be driven out by force.”

Turkey’s parliament last week also extended a law allowing the deployment of troops to Libya for 18 months.

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Associated Press author Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.

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