BRUSSELS – European Union countries have agreed to “re-focus” on anti-migrant naval missions in the Mediterranean bloc to focus on maintaining UN arms embargo against Libya, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday.
After chairing talks between EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Borrell said he would also look into ways to help monitor the ceasefire in the conflict-torn country once the bloc becomes effective and replaces the current shaky ceasefire.
He told reporters that EU ambassadors and experts had been tasked with “presenting specific proposals for the ministers to meet in Brussels on 17 February to discuss how to implement the ceasefire and implement the UN arms embargo.”
“In the meantime, we have to move from a ceasefire to a real ceasefire,” Borel said. “We are in a ceasefire, which is volatile. A ceasefire can be violated several times a day. Without a ceasefire, it would be difficult to imagine any strong involvement of the European Union. “
Libya has been plunged into chaos since the overthrow and assassination of its longtime dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011. It is now divided into rival administrations, each supported by different nations: the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez, and the former one, General Khalifa Hifter.
The EU has deployed a naval mission, Operation Sophia, in the Mediterranean to prevent the smuggling of migrants from the country, in addition to the UN arms embargo on Libya, but Italy believes its presence only encourages migrants from North Africa to travel to its shores.
Last year, the Roman government blocked the deployment of any ship on the mission, and it now operates almost exclusively using aircraft and unmanned drones. Borel said the ministers agreed to “re-focus” Operation Sophia on arms embargoes.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi de Maio said Sophia could only be used if it was “dismantled and reunited in a completely different way.”
“It will be a mission to monitor sanctions, and nothing else,” he said.
Under international law, ships in the vicinity of any disaster call at sea are obliged to rescue people.
In the interests of Libya’s protracted civil war, world powers and other nations agreed on Sunday to respect many violations of the arms embargo, cut off military support to the warring parties and push them to reach a full ceasefire.
Lorne Cook, Associated Press