EU discusses support to Libyan government, expansion of naval mission

EU foreign and defence ministers held talks via videoconference Monday with Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fajez Sarraj to discuss support for his fledgling government, including a possible expansion of the bloc's naval mission off the Libyan coast.

Sarraj and members of his Presidency Council arrived in Tripoli last month, in an internationally brokered effort to end the turmoil that has gripped the Northern African country since longtime dictator Moamer Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

The new leadership, which does not yet have the support of Libya's parliament, was appointed after months of inconclusive talks among rival administrations on the formation of a joint government.

A functioning Libyan government is seen as key to fight the Islamic State extremist group, which has used the political vacuum to gain a foothold in the country. The European Union also hopes Tripoli can help curb a flow of migrants arriving by sea from Libya.

The 28-member bloc is already present in international waters off the Libyan coast with a naval mission to prevent migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean Sea.

The mission, codenamed Operation Sophia, has so far rescued 13,000 migrants at sea, but has no authority to enter Libyan territorial waters, where many of the smugglers operate.

Talks are under way with Sarraj to expand Operation Sophia up to the Libyan coast, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said during a visit Friday to its flagship vessel. The move would require a request from Tripoli.

She said she would also propose broadening the mission's mandate to include the training of the Libyan coastguards.

Britain in particular is thought to be pushing for this, while France wants Operation Sophia to enforce a UN weapons embargo on Libya. Paris has indications that weapons and munitions are being delivered to Islamic State in Libya through the eastern Mediterranean, according to information seen by dpa.

Germany has so far been cautious about expanding the naval mission, but on Monday Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there is "no question" that Operation Sophia will have to do more in future than rescue migrants and fight the networks smuggling them.

But he said it was important at this stage not to "overburden" the Libyan government, which still has a limited sphere of influence. Any expansion to the mandate of Operation Sophia would require German parliamentary approval.

"The key point here is to share with the Libyan authorities the ownership, the timing, the sequencing of what, when and at what stage is useful to be done," Mogherini said in Luxembourg, where the EU foreign and defence ministers were meeting.

Also on the table is a 100-million-euro (113-million-dollar) EU support package for Libya, while the bloc is mulling a civilian mission that could help in fighting terrorism, securing Libya's borders or strengthening the rule of law.

"We have a package that is a very relevant one in economic terms," Mogherini said ahead of Monday's talks, adding that work must begin on finding concrete projects on the "economic, the political and the security side."

She later announced that 8.8 million euros from the Libya support package are being allocated for humanitarian aid and a United Nations support programme for the country, bringing the total funds committed this year to 40 million euros.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond also announced 10 million pounds (14.2 million dollars) in funding for Sarraj's government, during a trip to Libya on Monday, following a visit on Saturday by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault.

"Libya needs emergency aid to organize its security and police forces, reorganize its army, its border guard, its coast guard," Ayrault said ahead of Monday's talks, while noting that oil-rich Libya has money.

"The national unity government needs to be able to control the Libyan assets, the central bank, the national petroleum company," Ayrault added.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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