Libya’s Haftar orders forces to stop foreign vessels

BENGHAZI: Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar has ordered forces under his command to bar foreign vessels from entering the country’s waters, a spokesman said on Thursday, after Italy gave the go-ahead to a Libya naval mission to stem the growing tide of illegal immigration.
“Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar gave his instructions to the navy’s chief of staff to prevent any foreign vessel from entering Libyan territorial waters without permission,” Khalifa al Obeidi said.
He said foreign vessels needed a special permit from Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls a stretch of Libya’s 1,300 kilometre coastline.
Obeidi said Haftar’s orders were in reaction to Italy’s decision to deploy a naval mission to Libya, a main point of departure for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
On Wednesday, Italy dispatched a navy patrol boat to Libya after parliament in Rome approved the mission aimed at ending the migrant crisis that has engulfed Europe.
Under the mission, approved by Tripoli-based authorities, the navy patrol boat Comandante Borsini entered the North African state’s territorial waters on Wednesday afternoon headed for the capital, Italy’s navy said.
Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni last week announced the plan to deploy vessels in Libyan waters, saying Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord had asked for Rome’s assistance.
The GNA is headed by Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj, whose authority is contested by Haftar and a rival administration based in Libya’s east that he supports.
But Sarraj last week denied he had struck any deal with Italy.
Obeidi said Haftar’s orders were handed out to naval bases in the eastern cities of Tobruk, Benghazi and Ras Lanuf.
People traffickers have exploited the political and security chaos reigning in Libya since the 2011 to do a brisk business.