NATO investigating alleged Turkish harassment of French ship

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that the military alliance would investigate alleged harassment by Turkish warships of a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, Associated Press reported. 

According to the French defence minister, on June 10 Turkish warships flashed their radar lights three times at the frigate Courbet when it tried to approach the Turkish civilian ship Çirkin, which was suspected of smuggling arms to Libya in violation of a United Nations arms embargo. The Turkish ship was being escorted by three Turkish warships.

The minister also said that Turkish sailors had put on bullet-proof vests and stood behind their light weapons during the incident. The Courbet backed off after being targeted, AP said.

The French frigate was part of NATO's “Sea Guardian” naval operation in the Mediterranean. France claims that under the NATO’s rules of engagement Turkey’s alleged conduct should be considered a hostile act. Turkey has denied harassing the Courbet.

“We have made sure that NATO military authorities are investigating the incident to bring full clarity into what happened," Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing a video meeting between NATO defence ministers, where he said the issue was addressed by several participants.

The French foreign ministry slammed Ankara in a statement prior to the NATO meeting, saying that “the main obstacle to the establishment of peace and stability in Libya today lies in the systematic violation of the U.N. arms embargo, in particular by Turkey”.

“Turkey’s support for the government of national accord’s offensive goes directly against the efforts to secure a ceasefire, which we support,” the French ministry said. “This support is aggravated by the hostile and unacceptable actions of Turkish naval forces toward NATO allies, which is aimed at undermining efforts taking place to uphold the U.N. arms embargo.”

Turkey has provided military backing to the U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli to help to repel an assault on the capital by the rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and France, among others.

A senior Turkish military official told Reuters on Wednesday that the French claims of harassment were “completely untrue” and that the French warship did not establish communications with the Turkish ship.