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.

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.