Haftar holds security talks with Italian officials

Libyan General Khalifa Haftar. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2017
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Haftar holds security talks with Italian officials

ROME: Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar met Italy’s defense minister and security chiefs in Rome on Tuesday, bolstering his stature as a key player in international efforts to stabilize his troubled country.
Forces under Haftar’s command provide backing for a Tobruk-based adminstration that controls much of the east and south of the oil and gas-rich country.
Former colonial power Italy has hitherto been the strongest backer among Western allies for the UN-recognized Government of National Unity, which is based in Tripoli and sees Haftar as an arch foe.
But that did not prevent Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti from hosting the commander, a one-time ally and later armed opponent of Libya’s late dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
The meeting was not immediately confirmed by Italian officials but reporters camped outside the Defense Ministry said Haftar had spent three hours inside.
The unity government has struggled to establish its authority beyond the capital in a country scarred by conflict since the 2011 overthrow of Qaddafi.
Amid the chaos, Libya has become a launchpad for hundreds of thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe and a base for militants aligned with Daesh.
At surprise talks in Paris in July, Haftar and the unity government’s head, Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, agreed to a cease-fire and elections in the first half of next year.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson traveled to Benghazi last month to meet Haftar and the general was in Tunisia on Monday, meeting President Beji Caid Essebsi, who offered to act as a mediator between rival Libyan factions.
Italy has invested heavily in Sarraj’s fledgling government and has said it could lead a post-stabilization peace force in its former colony.
But it has grown frustrated by the weakness of the administration and has reportedly recently turned to dealing directly with militia groups in a successful effort to stem the flow of migrant arrivals.
Libya expert Mattia Toaldo said Haftar’s presence in Rome, reflected the growing influence of Interior Minister Marco Minniti, the architect of the migration strategy, “and the intelligence services who always thought the relationship with Haftar was important.”
With Italian naval forces engaged in training and support of the Libyan coast guard, dialogue with Haftar takes on added importance, Toaldo added.
“Remember the threats he (Haftar) made in August about Italian ships, they’ve all but disappeared now.”


Libya’s coast guard recovers five bodies from migrant boat

African migrants rescued from a ship off the coast of Zuwara, about 130 kilometres west of the Libyan capital Tripoli, sit alongside of bodies of others who died, at the dock in the capital's naval base on June 18, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 19 June 2018
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Libya’s coast guard recovers five bodies from migrant boat

  • Since January, some 10,760 migrants have crossed from Libya to Italy, more than 80 percent less than during the same period last year
  • Since last summer, smuggling networks inside Libya have been disrupted under Italian pressure

TRIPOLI: Libyan coast guards said on Monday they had recovered the bodies of five migrants and picked 191 survivors off the coast west of the capital Tripoli.
Libya’s western coast is the main departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe by the sea, though the number of crossings has dropped sharply since last July.
The five dead migrants were brought back to port in Tripoli on Monday along with 115 survivors from various sub-Saharan African and Arab countries, coast guard officials said.
Their boat was intercepted off Mellitah on Sunday after being damaged by rough seas, according to Ayoub Qassem, a coast guard spokesman.
Another group of 76 migrants was intercepted on Sunday off Zawiya, just west of Tripoli.
Since last summer, smuggling networks inside Libya have been disrupted under Italian pressure and Libya’s EU-backed coast guard has stepped up interceptions, returning more than 7,000 migrants to Libya so far this year.
Since January, some 10,760 migrants have crossed from Libya to Italy, more than 80 percent less than during the same period last year, according to statistics from Italy’s interior ministry.
Last week, crossings in the central Mediterranean were thrown into further uncertainty when Italy’s new government closed its ports to a rescue ship operated by humanitarian organizations that was loaded with more than 600 migrants.
It eventually docked in Spain.