EU foreign ministers agreed Monday to expand the bloc's anti-migrant smuggling operation in the Mediterranean Sea, taking on the additional tasks of training Libya's coastguard and helping to enforce a UN arms embargo on the country.

The conflict-ridden North African nation has been a springboard for migrants trying to reach the European Union, with smuggling networks taking advantage of the political turmoil gripping the country since longtime dictator Moamer Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

Brussels set up a naval operation last year, code-named Operation Sophia, to patrol international waters off the Libyan coast, intercept migrant vessels and arrest suspected smugglers, with a view to disrupting the illicit commerce.

While almost 14,000 migrants have been rescued at sea, the operation lacks authority to enter Libyan territorial waters, where many of the smugglers operate.

Just on Monday, rescue vessels from the Irish and Italian navies and the private aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were involved in 15 separate rescue operations, Italian authorities said late Monday. The 14 inflatable boats and one wooden vessel in the Mediterranean were bound for Italy with another 2,000 people, who were rescued.

The EU has been waiting for the formation of a unity government in Libya - which occurred last month - in the hope that the Libyan authorities would then formally ask the bloc to expand Operation Sophia.

The request from Libyan Prime Minister Fajez Sarraj for coastguard training arrived just before EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels were to discuss the possible expansion of the operation.

The ministers said in a joint statement that stepped up operations into Libyan waters are needed "to disrupt the business model of human smugglers and trafficking networks and to contribute to broader security in support of the legitimate Libyan authorities."

A further EU decision will be required before the operation can begin any of its new tasks.

"Our presence at sea not only has been useful so far, but could be even more upgraded in the future weeks," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

The coastguard training could take place on the high seas, she said.

One ship could suffice to provide the training, a senior EU official said last week on condition of anonymity.

Libya had asked for EU help in training its security services to fight the Islamic State extremist group, but Germany rejected the move, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

German State Minister Michael Roth had said ahead of the ministers' meeting that the aim was to support the new Libyan government "on its path to stability and new statehood."

A functioning government in Libya is seen as key to fighting the Islamic State movement, which has used the political vacuum to gain a foothold in the country.

France, meanwhile, has been pushing for Operation Sophia to help enforce an arms embargo on Libya. Paris believes that Islamic State militants in the country are being supplied via the Mediterranean Sea.

Ministers agreed Monday that their naval mission should contribute to information sharing and the implementation of "the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya." This will first require a new resolution from the UN Security Council.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.