Haftar orders navy to confront ships entering Libyan waters

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Italy's Parliament has approved a plan to send naval boats to Libya as part of efforts to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP)
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Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter. (AFP)
Updated 04 August 2017
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Haftar orders navy to confront ships entering Libyan waters

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 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-km coastline.
Al-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.
Al-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 to do a brisk business.
Some 600,000 mostly African migrants have arrived in Italy from Libya since the start of 2014.
Thousands have died attempting the perilous journey usually in rickety and overcrowded boats.
In a related development, Interior Minister Marco Minniti warned non-governmental orgainizations (NGOs) operating migrant rescue boats in the Mediterranean that they will not be allowed to continue if they do not sign up to new rules governing their operations.
“If NGOs do not sign up (to a new code of conduct), it is difficult to see how they can continue operating,” Minniti said in an interview with Turin daily La Stampa.
Minniti’s warning came a day after Italian authorities impounded a boat operated by German aid organization Jugend Rettet on suspicion its crew effectively collaborated with people traffickers in a way that facilitated illegal immigration.
The aid organization, which has only been operational for a year, said it would seek to overturn the seizure.
“Our Italian lawyer is appealing the confiscation of our boat. Our first priority is to free it and resume our rescue missions,” a spokeswoman said.
Italian authorities had been monitoring Jugend Rettet’s boat, the Iuventa, since October.
Its crew is suspected to taking on board dinghy loads of migrants delivered directly to them by people traffickers and allowing the smugglers to make off with the vessels to be used again.
Minniti also revealed plans for further talks this month with Libyan mayors on economic development initiatives and with Chad, Niger and Mali on measures to reduce the number of migrants leaving those countries in the hope of reaching Europe.


Italy’s Libya talks lay bare deep divisions

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte welcomes Libya's Prime Minister Al-Sarraj. (Reuters)
Updated 16 November 2018
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Italy’s Libya talks lay bare deep divisions

  • Two days of meetings in the Sicilian capital Palermo saw some delegates refuse to sit side by side
  • The 2019 talks are intended to give Libyans a chance to spell out their vision for the future, with elections slated for a few months later

TRIPOLI: Italy’s Libya talks this week laid bare deep divisions between the key power brokers, threatening attempts to resolve the country’s ongoing crisis, analysts say.

Two days of meetings in the Sicilian capital Palermo saw some delegates refuse to sit side by side, while a meeting held on the sidelines sparked a diplomatic spat.

“The dynamics between the four Libyan delegations attending the Palermo conference regrettably show that the rifts are still very deep,” said Claudia Gazzini, a Libya analyst at International Crisis Group.

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar showed up, only to snub the main conference and organize separate talks with international leaders.

Such a move was “a slap in the face to the Libyan politicians at the conference,” said Gazzini.

Haftar, whose self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) holds much of eastern Libya, held a meeting with representatives of Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, France and Russia.

One of his main rivals, UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, also attended the “informal talks,” but Qatar and Turkey were not invited.

Their exclusion prompted Ankara to pull out of the main conference in protest.

LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mesmari later accused Turkey and Qatar of traveling to Palermo “to protect the interests of the terrorist groups which they are supporting in Libya.”

Fragility

Khaled Saleh El-Kuafi, a professor at the University of Benghazi, said the outcome “illustrated the extent of the crisis, the divisions in Libya and the fragility of the situation.”

Haftar “succeeded in being the star of the conference” by refusing to meet some of his rivals and sidelining Turkey and Qatar,” he added.

The Palermo talks followed a Paris meeting at which Libyan leaders agreed to prepare for elections this December. Such a timeline was widely viewed as unrealistic, however, and preparations for polls have now been pushed back to 2019.

For Khaled Al-Montasser, a professor at the University of Tripoli, international meetings cannot succeed “while the international parties are putting the Libyans under pressure and while they put forward solutions to the crisis which suit themselves and them alone.”

It should be up to the Libyans, he said, to “agree on the subjects that they must discuss.”

But, as Montasser noted, the Libyan leaders themselves are “not ready to accept each other and to tolerate differences of opinion.”

Just as in May, the top Libyan invitees to Palermo were Haftar, Al-Sarraj, who heads the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, the eastern parliament’s speaker Aguila Salah and Khaled Al-Mechri, speaker of a Tripoli-based upper chamber.

But the Italy talks were not really focused on improving relations between the rivals, according to Libyan analyst Emad Badi.

It was instead “an attempt by Italy to both react to the French initiative and to reposition itself as a power broker,” he said.

Despite the conference being viewed as a failure by numerous analysts, some have underlined the importance of meetings organized by the UN a few hours before the formal talks opened.

Those discussions focused on economic and security issues in Libya, where residents have seen their currency’s value plummet and endured years of violence.

Weeks of clashes in September between rival militias in the capital Tripoli killed at least 117 people and wounded more than 400, prompting Al-Sarraj’s government to introduce reforms.

The UN’s Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, this week welcomed the participants’ backing for the new measures and their “unanimous support” for a national conference early next year.

The 2019 talks are intended to give Libyans a chance to spell out their vision for the future, with elections slated for a few months later.

However, “numerous Libyans are still not certain of the format and aims of that conference,” said Crisis Group’s Gazzini.