UN-organised intervention only hope for Libya – PM

UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva ‘not going very far’

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Libya can only be resolved through an “organised intervention led by the United Nations”, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

“Europe and the whole world cannot expect things to fall into place. Libya alone cannot make it,” he told MaltaToday when asked.

The Prime Minister bluntly admitted that the UN-mediated Geneva peace talks between factions in Libya were not going very far.

On Friday gunmen stormed government buildings in the coastal city of Sirte, forcing officials out at gunpoint and taking over administrative offices and television and radio stations. Pictures posted on Twitter depicted masked men posing at radio booths holding knives and guns.

Hours later, Italy announced it was ready to join a UN-led force to battle an active terrorist threat in Libya after advances by a faction in Libya that has sworn loyalty to Islamic State (IS) militants.

Italy, MaltaToday has learnt, will also be closing its embassy in Tripoli and warned that it could not “underestimate” the possibility of an attack by IS militants. Italy and Hungary are the only EU member states to retain their embassy open in Libya.

Despite the high seas and rough weather, hundred of migrants are leaving Libya aboard inflatable dinghies as the threat of extremist forces intensifies.

Muscat welcomed Italy’s announcement that it would be ready to take part in a mission led by the United Nations. He said that Malta had been actively seeking a peace-keeping mission in Libya to make the country secure for months.

“The international community should not delay in taking decisions. The situation has deteriorated and violence is escalating in our neighbouring state. Only an organised intervention led by the UN can resolve the situation in Libya,” Muscat said.

The Prime Minister warned that disunity in Libya was leading to extremist factions taking over parts of Libya. According to media reports, the Islamic State had already taken over the eastern port city of Derna while IS told Sirte militias that they had until dawn on Sunday to evacuate.

Libya’s state-run oil company warned that it would shut production at all fields if authorities in the divided nation fail to contain an escalation of attacks on facilities that has cut crude output to a year-low.

In the latest attack yesterday morning, a bomb exploded at an oil pipeline from Libya's El Sarir field to Hariga port, halting flows to the terminal.

The PN has hit out at a government decision not to form part of a global coalition against the Islamic State. Spearheaded by the United States, the anti-Islamic State Coalition was formed last year but Malta has refused to join. Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella always insisted that “Malta’s neutrality has the goal to achieve peace and therefore Malta cannot remain passive in such a circumstance”.

The PN yesterday said that it was of grave concern that Muscat refused to form part of the global coalition. “It shows that when it comes down to it, Joseph Muscat's actions on the fight against terrorism do not match his words,” it said.

Muscat however insisted that being neutral didn’t mean being passive: “We are working to get all the factions in Libya to unite and be ready to fight against the external forces taking over parts of Libya, which are threatening not just the Libyans, but also Europe and the world.

“The escalation of violence by terrorists in Libya should lead Libyans to unite and fight extremism.”

Muscat added that while the situation in Libya was dangerous, the government did not have any indication of some sort of direct threat to Malta.

“We are cooperating with other security services in Europe as well as with Libyans on the ground to keep monitoring the situation,” he said.

PN spokesman for foreign affairs Tonio Fenech said that the country could not ignore the security threat the situation in Libya posed on Malta.

“We are not being alarmist but this is a fact that we can’t ignore. Joining the coalition does not mean sending our troops on the ground but we could be part of intelligence sharing,” Fenech said.

“All we are asking is for the government to explain its position. We don’t want to hinder the government’s position but such an issue should merit more discussions and consideration.”

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