New Libyan PM seeks EU help to rebuild country, tackle smugglers


Libya’s new prime minister called on Monday for European help to combat people smugglers but stopped short of making the formal invitation the EU says it needs to move its Mediterranean naval mission into Libyan waters to stem a new tide of migrants.

In his first video conference to EU foreign and defence ministers since setting up in Tripoli, the U.N.-backed prime minister, Fayez Seraj, made a broad appeal for aid to fight Islamic State and rebuild the shattered country, diplomats said of the private briefing.

The request, which is sensitive because the Libyan government is trying to establish its independence, could mark the start of Europe’s return to Libya five years after the West waged an air campaign to help rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi but then left the country to descend into anarchy.
“We are ready to support the government,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired the meeting with more than 50 ministers in Luxembourg. “Work can now start,” she told a news conference, adding that the European Union was ready with 100 million euros (79 million pounds) in financial support.

Exactly a year after the deaths of 800 migrants off the Libyan coast prompted the European Union to act against uncontrolled refugee flows in the Mediterranean, fears over a new tide of migrants have galvanised governments to try to bring law and order to the North African state.

An expanded naval mission would be part of the EU’s emerging support plan for Libya, which could also work with the U.S.-led NATO alliance to build up a Libyan coastguard capable of stopping traffickers. The bloc says it cannot act until the Libyan government invites it to do so.
“Bringing security is vital not just for the Libyan people, but for the region and for Europe,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, after a weekend visit to Tripoli.
“We must do all we can to fight against the human smugglers and arms trafficking,” he told reporters, referring to the U.N. arms embargo on Libya, in place since 2011 and which France sees as a reason to do more in Libyan waters.


In a statement, ministers said they were ready to offer security support to train Libyan police, border and coastguards, if requested by Libya, as well as expanding the naval mission.

The EU’s “Sophia” mission is operating in international waters near Libya and has saved some 13,000 lives since it started in mid-2015, but it is too far out to destroy boats used by people smugglers, catch traffickers or head off an expected surge in migrants trying to reach Europe by sea from Libya.

But there are differences about how to proceed, with Britain, France, Italy and Spain eager to act quickly.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who arrived at the meeting directly from Tripoli, said he hoped training could happen in Libya or a neighbouring country. Germany is adamant its security personnel will not be on the ground in Libya.

Asked if the naval mission should operate in Libyan waters, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said: “Yes, it is very urgent.” Mogherini said EU generals had briefed her that such a move was feasible for Europe’s naval forces.

Sweden says it might also require a U.N. Security Council resolution if the mission is to try to stop arms smuggling.

Security Council member Russia has said it was unlikely to back such a request any time soon.

Moscow believes the West went too far when a NATO-backed mission helped bring down Libya’s long-time leader Gaddafi in 2011. Russia says it overstepped a U.N. mandate that was only to impose a no-fly zone and protect civilians.
“We need to stop the smuggling routes and to work more closely with NATO to make sure that we can help the Libyan coastguard,” said British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. “Otherwise we are going to see hundreds of more lives lost.”

Talks on a possible EU training mission could give momentum to discussions among Italian, French, British and U.S. military planners on whether to send troops to Libya to help to protect key installations, government buildings, ports and the airport.

Italy, Libya’s former colonial power, has said publicly it is willing to send some 5,000 personnel to help the country.