EU to deploy ships to block Libya arms supplies
The Libya peace conference in Berlin last month agreed to try to resolve the Libyan civil war that has seen Russia and Turkey backing opposite sides.
Austria tried to block the naval mission, saying an increasing number of ships will encourage more migrants to leave Libya.
Under international maritime law, all ships are obliged to rescue those in distress at sea.
Operation Sophia was suspended in March 2019 because of Italian protests that ships were rescuing migrants at sea and taking them to Italian ports.
Vienna finally accepted the new mission with a different mandate from Operation Sophia, which sought to stop trafficking gangs.
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said a decision had been reached involving naval vessels. He said the ships would patrol the eastern Mediterranean, away from the migrant sea routes between Libya and Italy. But the flotilla will presumably need to be mobile to catch arms smugglers elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said if the vessels were proving a “pull factor” for immigrants, “the mission will be stopped”.
“The main objective is the arms embargo,” said Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn.
The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli is confined to a small area, surrounded by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of General Khalifa Haftar’s rival Russian-backed government.
The LNA, based in the eastern city of Tobruk, is also backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France, while the Tripoli administration is supported by Turkey, Qatar and Italy.
A Libyan ceasefire was initiated by Turkey and Russia in mid-January.
Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, said: ”A ceasefire, yes it is a first step in the right direction, but what you need is a process of consolidation, of reconstruction and a government of unity.”
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Europe could not patrol the Egypt-Libya land border, through which Haftar’s forces receive much of their artillery and other hardware. “It would be very difficult for us to act between two sovereign countries,” he said.
Borrell at first hoped to revive Operation Sophia, which stopped deploying ships after Italy said it would no longer accept migrants rescued at sea.
Since the killing of veteran dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has descended into anarchy. Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj still holds the capital, Tripoli, but since last April has been encircled by the LNA.
Picture credit: Wikimedia