Turkey saves New York Times journalists in Libya

  • Mon Mar 21st 2011

Four journalists from The New York Times who were captured during fighting in Libya were released on Monday following negotiations by Turkey with Libyan authorities, adding to Turkey's emergence as a protector of US and other countries' diplomatic interests in the North African country.

The four journalists were released into the custody of Turkish diplomats. "Four journalists from The New York are currently in our embassy in Libya. Whatever is necessary will be done for them to be returned to their countries within a few hours," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters.

Namık Tan, the Turkish ambassador in Washington, said in a Twitter message that the journalists, Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks, Lynsey Addario and Stephen Farrell, were released following negotiations between Turkey and Libyan authorities and are expected to be transferred to US officials.

Turkish officials said the US requested Turkish intervention to secure the release of the journalists on Saturday. The Turkish side, in response, said it would do so if the US identifies Turkey as a representative of its diplomatic interests in Libya, something that the US agreed to. This is the legal basis that allowed Turkey to contact the Libyan authorities to seek the release of the four journalists, officials also said.

The journalists had last been in contact with their editors on Tuesday from the northern port city of Ajdabiya, where they were covering the retreat of rebels revolting against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule. Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, said last week that at least one of the correspondents had been arrested by the Libyan army after it captured Ajdabiya from the rebels.

The news of the release of the journalists came after US officials announced that Turkey would represent the US in Libya, serving as a “protecting power” for Washington, along with other nations, in the North African country.

Turkey already represents the diplomatic interests of Italy, Britain and Australia, who all have closed their diplomatic missions in Libya amid the anti-Gaddafi revolt in the country. Italy, Britain and the US are all members of an international coalition that has been carrying out strikes on Gaddafi forces since Saturday. Although the United States has not formally suspended ties with Libya, it closed its embassy earlier this month and withdrew all of its diplomats from the country. The State Department also ordered the Libyan Embassy in Washington to be closed and ordered its diplomats to leave the country.

Turkey’s role as a protecting power for the US includes acting as consular officers on behalf of US citizens in Libya and looking after American diplomatic facilities in the country, reported CNN, citing senior State Department officials, on its website late on Sunday. Turkey can also pass messages between the United States and Libya, since there is little communication left between the two countries and the US has been bombing Libyan targets as part of the enforcement of a no-fly zone. Officials told CNN that Libya has not yet identified a protecting power for its interests in the United States.

On Sunday Italy asked Turkey to step in when a crisis broke out after Libyan military officials boarded an Italian tugboat docked at Tripoli’s port and threatened to suspend its communications in an apparent seizure. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said his government asked Turkey to intervene with Libyan authorities since Ankara represents Italy’s interests in Libya.

The ship owner, Naples-based Augusta Offshore SrL, said Tripoli port officials had boarded the vessel Friday and Saturday, asking to see and photograph its equipment, with some spending the night on board. On Sunday morning, armed Libyan military officers boarded and threatened to suspend communications between the ship and Augusta Offshore officials, the company said in a statement, according to the LaPress news agency. The tug left the port later on Sunday, heading northwest, the company said, adding that the crew was fine.

Frattini said the situation was fluid and confusing, but that he couldn’t exclude that it amounted to a seizure.

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