Vice tightens on Libya’s people traffickers

Members of a Libyan force tackling clandestine migration man a checkpoint in Sabrata, about 70 kms (43 mi) west of the Libyan capital Tripoli, on September 11, 2017. In Sabrata, Libya's main departure point for clandestine migrants hoping to reach Europe, people trafficking gangs are under so much pressure that some have closed for business, local officials say. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2017
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Vice tightens on Libya’s people traffickers

SABRATA, Libya: In Sabrata, Libya’s main departure point for clandestine migrants hoping to reach Europe, people trafficking gangs are under so much pressure that some have closed for business.
The results have been noticed on the other side of the Mediterranean where the number of arrivals on the Italian coast has dropped dramatically.
Italy has registered 6,500 arrivals since mid-July, barely 15 percent of the average for the same period between 2014 and 2016.
Libyan officials say the falling number is due to stronger surveillance by the coast guards of both countries, as well as pressure on major people smuggling gangs in Sabrata.
Six years since a revolution and NATO intervention that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi, violence-wracked Libya has become a key gateway for clandestine migration to Europe.
But now traffickers in Sabrata, 70 kilometers (45 miles) west of Tripoli, are preparing to hand security forces thousands of migrants they had planned to put on makeshift boats heading for the Italian coast, Sabrata security officials told AFP.
“We are giving them a chance. It’s an opportunity for traffickers to repent,” said Bassem Ghrabli, commander of a force tackling clandestine migration.
Libya’s unity government originally formed the force to battle the Daesh group after it briefly occupied the center of Sabrata in 2016.
“Since the creation of this cell, we have had support from the Government of National Accord. Before, we didn’t have the means to fight the traffickers, who were better armed,” Ghrabli said.
“We expect (the smugglers) to hand over more than 10,000 migrants to us.”
Ghrabli said 90 percent of the city’s traffickers had agreed to halt their illegal activities after negotiations with residents.
“We gave them an ultimatum: we will no longer tolerate such activities in the city. If they do not agree to abandon their trafficking, we will use force,” he said.
In an eastern suburb, warehouses are being rehabilitated to house migrants.
“They are big enough to house thousands of people” waiting to be repatriated, Ghrabli said.
On the other side of the huge dust-swept yard, prefabricated building sites, initially set up as offices, will accommodate women, he said.
Migrants waiting to embark toward the Italian coast are usually held in warehouses the traffickers have set up along the beach.
“Those warehouses will be destroyed,” the officer said.
Some trafficking barons, who control whole sections of the city, have even built their own jetties, from which dozens of boats loaded with migrants leave every day.
Sabrata mayor Hussein Dhawadi said residents and security forces had “sent a strong and threatening message to the traffickers: ‘If the migrants do not leave the city, there will be clashes.’ This message was well understood by the smugglers.”
Ghrabli said the traffickers “understood the risks” they were taking.
Libyan security forces have a growing presence in the city, whilst across the Mediterranean, Italy has reinforced its maritime surveillance, he said.
He said that suspected IS jihadists are still present in the city and continue to benefit from human trafficking.
“The Europeans have also understood that they are under threat from terrorists” who can infiltrate Europe by hiding among migrants, he said.
Some traffickers have tried to adopt a new image so their criminal past is forgotten, Ghrabli said.
One of the best-known trafficking barons, whose forces control half of the city, a few weeks ago became head of a force tackling clandestine migration.
That came after an alleged “agreement under the table” with Italian officials at an informal meeting with major traffickers in July in Malta, according to widespread rumors repeated by officials in Sabrata.
“I asked the ambassador and the Italian interior ministry but they denied having been party to such an agreement. But even the traffickers themselves talk about” the meeting, the city’s mayor said.


Iraq’s Al-Fattah leaders deep in coalition talks with Muqtada Al-Sadr

Updated 29 min 37 sec ago
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Iraq’s Al-Fattah leaders deep in coalition talks with Muqtada Al-Sadr

  • Negotiations between the leading Iraqi political forces to form the biggest parliamentary bloc started immediately after the official results were announced late on Friday.
  • The backing of Al-Fattah leaders is essential to nominate the next prime minister and form a strong and stable government.

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Al-Fattah, the Iranian-backed parliamentary bloc that won the second-highest vote in the parliamentary elections, are in deep negotiations with the powerful Shiite leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr to form a coalition.

While it is too early to talk about ministerial posts, Al-Fattah has no veto over Haider Al-Abadi, the current prime minister, from taking a second term, the alliance’s senior leaders told Arab News on Tuesday.

Negotiations between the leading Iraqi political forces to form the biggest parliamentary bloc started immediately after the official results were announced late on Friday. The biggest coalition has the exclusive right to nominate the prime minister and form a government.

The backing of Al-Fattah leaders is essential to nominate the next prime minister and form a strong and stable government.

Ahmed Assadi, the spokesman of Fattah and one of its leaders, said negotiations were continuing with Sairoon, the alliance which came first in the election with 54 seats and is led by Al-Sadr.

“There is no way to form a government without either of them,” Al-Assidi said.

“Both (Fattah and Sairoon) represent the biggest alliances among the winning forces and enjoy great support in the street and the region, so there is no way to ignore one of them.”

The Fattah alliance, which is openly funded and supported by Iran, won 47 seats, which includes 22 seats won by Badr Organization, one of the most prominent Shiite armed groups and 17 seats won by Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, the second most powerful Shiite paramilitary group.
The relationship between Al-Sadr and Fattah leaders is tense as the cleric has accused Fattah factions of carrying out an Iranian agenda in Iraq.

Al-Sadr has said on several occasions in the last two weeks that he is ready to negotiate with all political forces except Fattah and the State of Law — led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

But Al-Sadr’s tone has changed in recent days and he has come back to say that the coalition he is working on, is open to everyone.

Assadi and two other Al-Fattah leaders said talks have focussed on forming the biggest parliamentary bloc so far not the nomination of the prime minister.

“Our vision is to form a big parliamentary bloc first within the Shiite winning blocs, and then go to the Kurdish and Sunni (winning) blocs,” Assadi said.

Along with Sairoon and Al-Fattah, the talks involving prime minster Al-Abadi’s Al-Nassir alliance, Hikma, led by the prominent cleric Ammar Al-Hakim, Al-Wattiniya, led by Vice President Ayad Allawi, and Maliki’s State of Law.

The only thing that has been agreed upon so far is the formation of a national majority government, not a political power sharing administration. Also, the negotiators have agreed to postpone talking about positions, including the post of prime minister, leaders said.

“It is still too early to announce any coalition,” a senior leader of Fattah involved in the talks and talked told Arab News. “Talks are still focusing on the government program and the details are too many.

“Al-Sadr, Nassir and Hikma are insisting to nominate Al-Abadi but we clearly said that we have no veto against him, but that there would be no discussions over the names until we agree on all the other details.”