Reports suggesting that the Government of National Unity has approved leasing the strategic port to Turkey for a duration of 99 years have sparked debate, but the Government of National Unity has denied it.
The Libyan Government of National Unity, based in Tripoli, denied on Thursday that the al-Khums seaport was being used as a foreign military base. This comes after media reports circulated that the government had allowed the port to be leased to Turkey for a long-term contract of up to 99 years to enhance its presence in the region.
Mohamed Hamouda, the spokesperson for the government led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, stated in a joint press conference with the heads of the naval forces, and the ports authority from within the al-Khums seaport, “What is being rumored about the state relinquishing or designating the use of the al-Khums seaport as a foreign military base is untrue and devoid of truth.”
The government spokesperson warned citizens against “interfering with public interests,” emphasizing that such actions lead to “legal accountability,” and urged everyone to “restrain themselves.”
Hamouda concluded by mentioning that instructions from the Prime Minister stressed the importance of the commercial al-Khums port and that there is a plan in preparation to develop the port to enhance cooperation and trade with other countries.
The government’s stance comes days after protests in the coastal city of al-Khums (120 km) east of the capital Tripoli. Videos, whose authenticity could not be verified, showed hundreds of city residents blocking roads and threatening civil disobedience, including the closure of the seaport in the city.
Protesters oppose what they described as the government’s intention to allocate parts of the al-Khums seaport for use by Turkey for military purposes.
A report from the Russian news agency RIA Novosti stated that Turkey had leased the port for 99 years to establish a military base and that it planned to enhance its influence in the Mediterranean Sea to ensure the safety of commercial ships.
The strategic al-Khums seaport, located 120 kilometers east of the capital Tripoli, is one of the largest commercial ports in Libya. It is highly regarded for its location, depth, and dock length. Its area is estimated at 249 hectares, and its annual container capacity is one million tons.
Reports about Turkey’s ambitions in the al-Khums port indicate that Ankara plans to remain in Libya despite international pressure to remove foreign forces and mercenaries from the country. This is one of the key demands for finding a settlement in Libya.
Turkey’s persistence in Libya is driven by its ambitions to control the country’s wealth through memorandums of understanding that have raised concerns among authorities in eastern Libya and regional countries like Egypt.
Turkey supported armed groups and militias in the western region during the war between the previous Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. This support was one of the reasons for the failure of Libyan forces to retake Tripoli and the western region.
Libya has been in turmoil since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, with two competing governments. The first controls the western part of the country, headquartered in Tripoli, led by Dbeibeh, and formed after a political dialogue in early 2021. The second controls the eastern part of the country, led by Osama al-Hamadi, appointed by the House of Representatives and supported by Khalifa Haftar.