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Italy supports mission to Libya as country denies ‘inviting’ Italian warships into its territory

Italy’s Cabinet has green lighted a mission to Libya which would see Italian disciplined forces control Libyan borders, within the country’s territorial waters

28 July 2017, 4:02pm
File photo: Libyan prime minister Fayez el-Serraj and Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni
File photo: Libyan prime minister Fayez el-Serraj and Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni
Paolo Gentiloni’s Cabinet has given the go ahead for Italy to send a mission to Libya, to try to stem the influx of migrants by having Italian forces controlling the border within the North African country’s territorial waters.

Italian media have reported the Italian Premier as stating that, what the Cabinet agreed to, was based on what Libyan prime minister Fayez Sarraj had requested. But Serraj, who leads the UN-backed Government of National Accord, has denied inviting Italian warships to enter Libyan territorial waters in pursuit of human traffickers.

Earlier this week, Serraj was in Paris for talks hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, where he agreed to a conditional ceasefire and elections with General Khalifa Haftar. Before heading back to Libya, he stopped in Rome for talks with Gentiloni. The latter was reported saying that Serraj had authorised Italian naval vessels to saild into Libyan waters.

According to the Libya Herald, Serraj issued a statement saying he had done no such thing.

“What had been agreed in Rome was for the Italians to continue with their training and equipping of the Libyan Coastguard so that this force could save the lives of migrants and confront the criminal organisations behind illegal immigration and smuggling. They had also agreed to help Libya secure its land borders,” the Libya Herald reported.

“Criticising the published reports, Serraj said that Libyan sovereignty was a red line that could not be crossed. He said that Libyan territory would be defended. He had not invited Libyan naval forces to enter Libyan territory, he said, nor had he invited the presence of fighter planes and other Italian aircraft.”

The Italian mission would reportedly comprise ships, planes and 700 personnel.

More than 88,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year, and more than a quarter of them arrived in June alone.

In February, Italy and Libya signed a memorandum of understanding on "development, countering illegal immigration, human trafficking, smuggling and on strengthening border security".