EU begins air, sea patrols off Libyan coast

The EU’s new naval and air mission will operate in the eastern Mediterranean. Above, An Italian warship in Tripoli. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2020

EU begins air, sea patrols off Libyan coast

  • Mission will enforce UN arms embargo amid warnings on ‘foreign interference’
  • The mission will avoid migrant trafficking routes to minimize the risk of becoming a ‘pull factor’

ANKARA: Brussels agreed on Monday to launch a new naval and air mission off the Libyan coast to enforce a UN arms embargo.

EU member countries are expected to prepare a legal text to support the mission in the eastern Mediterranean.

However, the mission will avoid migrant trafficking routes to minimize the risk of becoming a “pull factor,” as mentioned by Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump phoned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to caution him against any intervention in Libya that would further undermine the fragile balance in the country, Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary, said on Sunday.

“President Trump also reiterated that continued foreign interference in Libya would only serve to worsen the situation,” Deere said.

Ankara is accused of providing weapons and military assistance to Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) by circumventing the international arms embargo.

Some experts think that the decisions should be taken as a challenge to Turkey while getting people like Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on board because Austria tried to block EU negotiations on the patrol mission, claiming that people rescued in the Mediterranean should not be taken to Europe.

The EU patrolling decision aims to revive Operation Sophia, which was launched in 2015 to combat people smuggling off the Libyan coast and to monitor a UN arms embargo on the warring parties. The operation was suspended as a naval mission last March after Italy said it would no longer take in migrants rescued at sea, and is now restricted to aerial observation.

Despite Turkish denials, there are also reports that hundreds of militants have been transferred from Syria to Libya in recent months to fight against the Libyan National Army, which controls most of eastern and southern Libya.

Ankara and the GNA signed a memorandum of military cooperation in late November, 2019. The deal was criticized by Turkish opposition parties, who claimed it violates the UN arms embargo to the war-torn country and makes Turkey part of the conflict.

However, Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said that the new EU initiative is unlikely to have a noticeable effect on Libya’s civil war.

“That may explain why Turkey, so far, has not complained about, or condemned, it too vocally,” he told Arab News.

Harchaoui said that Europe, particularly Italy, worries more about the risk of letting in irregular migrants than it does about war ravaging Libya further.

“This means that the new embargo-monitoring operation may be short-lived. A country like Italy can call it off if the mission ends up saving migrants and bringing them into the EU,” he said.

Brussels has long rejected Turkey’s military presence in Libya, although Ankara insists that Turkish troops are there for “coordination.”

On Jan. 7, Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, met with French, German, Italian and British foreign ministers.

“It is obvious that this makes a reference to the Turkish decision to intervene in Libya, which is something we reject and increases our worries in Libya,” he said after the meeting.

Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum during virus shutdown

Updated 30 March 2020

Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum during virus shutdown

  • The 1884 painting, titled the ‘Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring,’ was taken during a pre-dawn break-in at the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam
  • The criminals smashed through a glass door and then took the painting, which is valued at up to €6 million

THE HAGUE: Thieves stole a painting by Dutch master Vincent van Gogh early Monday in a daring heist from a museum that was closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 1884 painting, titled the “Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring,” was taken during a pre-dawn break-in at the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam.
The criminals smashed through a glass door and then took the painting, which is valued at up to €6 million ($6.6 million).
“I am shocked and unbelievably annoyed this theft has happened,” Jan Rudolph de Lorm, one of the museum’s directors, told a press conference.
“Art is there to be seen, to be enjoyed, to inspire and to bring solace, particularly in these troubled times in which we find ourselves,” De Lorm said.
The theft happened on what would have been the 167th birthday of the brilliant yet troubled artist.
“Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring” comes from relatively early on in Van Gogh’s career, before the prolific artist embarked on his trademark post-impressionist paintings such as “Sunflowers” and his vivid self-portraits.
The painting was on loan from its owners, the Groninger Museum in the north of the Netherlands, as part of an exhibition.
The Singer Laren museum closed two weeks ago in compliance with Dutch government measures aimed at tackling the spread of COVID-19.
Dutch police said the criminals had broken in at around 3:15 am (0115 GMT).
“Police officers immediately rushed to the scene but the perpetrators had escaped,” Dutch police said in a statement, appealing for witnesses.
The painting has an estimated value of between one million and six million euros, Dutch art detective Arthur Brand said.
“The hunt is on,” said Brand, who is known for recovering stolen Nazi art including “Hitler’s Horses.”
It was the third time the famous Dutch master’s works have been targeted in the Netherlands since the 1990s, Brand said.
“To me this looks like the work of a copycat,” Brand told AFP, adding the modus operandi was similar to the other two cases.
“The thieves only went for a Van Gogh, while there are other works too in the museum,” he said.
Asked whether he thought there was enough security at the museum Brand said “it is very difficult to say.”
“Securing a painting is very difficult. It is something that has to be displayed for people to see,” he said.
The museum’s 3,000 pieces also include works by Dutch abstract master Piet Mondrian and Dutch-Indonesian painter Jan Toorop, as well as a casting of “The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin.
Singer Laren was targeted in 2007 when thieves stole a number of castings from its gardens including “The Thinker,” Dutch media reports said. The castings were recovered two days later.
Two Van Gogh masterpieces went back on display at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum last year after they were stolen from the museum in 2002.
The paintings — the 1882 ” View of the Sea at Scheveningen” and the 1884/5 “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen” — were recovered by Italian investigators in September 2016 when they raided a home belonging to an infamous mafia drug baron near Naples.
Previously three Van Goghs that were stolen from the Noordbrabants Museum in 1990 later resurfaced when a notorious Dutch criminal made a deal with prosecutors.