CAIRO (AP) - Egyptian diplomats and intelligence officials arrived in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Sunday, Libyan officials said, the most senior Egyptian delegation to visit the western part of the conflict-stricken country in years.
The Egyptian delegation was headed by Ayman Badea, the deputy chief of the General Intelligence Service, Egypt’s version of the CIA. The delegation met with Fathi Bashagha, the powerful interior minister of the Tripoli-based government, as well as Emad Trapolsi, head of intelligence in western Libya.
Bashagha’s office said in a statement that they discussed “mutual security challenges and ways to enhance security cooperation.” They also discussed ways to support a U.N.-brokered cease-fire deal that Libya’s warring sides reached in October, the statement said.
Oil-rich Libya is currently split between the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli and a rival administration based in the city of Benghazi and which controls the country’s east and south. The country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Egypt views the instability in neighboring Libya as a national security threat.
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates back the eastern forces, led by military commander Khalifa Hifter. The Tripoli government primarily has backing from Turkey, whose military support helped cause the collapse this spring of Hifter’s year-long attempt to capture Tripoli.
The Egyptian delegation also met with Ahmed Matiq, the deputy prime minister of the Tripoli government. Matiq said they discussed the reopening of the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli after an over six-year closure, as well as the resumption of flights between the two countries.
There was no official comment from Egypt about the visit, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
The visit to western Libya came just over a week after Egypt’s intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, met in Benghazi with Hifter and the speaker of the eastern-based parliament, Aguila Saleh.
Bashagha, the Tripoli-based interior minister, seeks to lead an interim government that would rule Libya until an election set for next December. He visited Cairo in November, part of efforts by the two countries to “fight the threat of terrorism and organized crime,” his office said at the time.
The Egyptian delegation’s visit also came one day after Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, along with the military’s chief of staff Yasar Guler and other commanders, met with officials in Tripoli.
In comments run by Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency on Sunday, Akar threatened to target Hifter’s forces if there were any attacks against 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 seemed to be in response to Hifter, who last week said he would target Turkish troops in Libya if Ankara doesn’t stop interfering in the country. He said Turkey could “leave peacefully or to be driven out by force.”
Last week, Turkey’s parliament also extended for 18 months a law that allows the deployment of troops to Libya.
Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed.
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