Libya invites Italy into its waters to fight human trafficking

ROME: Libya’s Tripoli-based government has invited Italian war ships into its territorial waters to support the fight against human trafficking, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Wednesday.
Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Seraj, who heads a UN-backed government in Tripoli, had refused access to the European Union’s anti-trafficking sea mission Sophia, hobbling its efforts to stop smugglers since patrols began in 2015.
Seraj’s change of heart was announced a day after he agreed a conditional ceasefire and possible elections next year with the divided country’s eastern commander, Khalifa Haftar.
“A few days ago, President Seraj sent me a letter in which he asked the Italian government for technical support by our naval vessels in the common effort to fight human traffickers,” Gentiloni said.
Gentiloni said the request, if parliament agreed to support it, “is necessary” and “would be carried out in Libyan waters by ships sent from Italy”.
People smugglers operating with impunity in Libya have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants to Italy by sea since the start of 2014.
Italy had been leading efforts to bolster Libya’s ability to fight smuggling, signing an agreement with Seraj in February promising millions of euros in funding, but its efforts to bring Libya’s rival governments to the negotiating table had failed.
On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron personally shepherded Libya’s eastern and western factions to a deal, but he cut Italy out of the process, angering some officials in Rome.
Even a limited number of Italian navy ships equipped with the latest surveillance technology could help the Libyans stop migrant boats before they are sent to sea, where some 2,300 have died so far this year, an Italian government source said.
“This could be a game changer,” the source said after the announcement. — Reuters