Rome, July 28 (IANS/AKI) The government agreed on Friday to boost Italy’s naval support to the Libyan coastguard in fighting migrant trafficking , Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters, playing down the size and scope of the planned mission.
“We are not talking about the deployment of an enormous fleet of ships and squadrons of aircraft. We are talking about a request that we have accepted to support Libya’s coastguard,” Gentiloni stated.
The mission represents “progress in Italy’s contribution to building the capacity of Libyan authorities in curbing trafficking and securing its borders and national territory”, Gentiloni said.
Italy would only act in accordance with the Libyan authorities, Gentiloni stated, giving no details of what his government planned to do.
Earlier on Friday, Libya’s UN-backed government said it had only requested logistical and technical support for Libyan coastguard from Italy, Libya’s LANA news agency reported.
“The presence of several Italian naval vessels in Tripoli’s port could be required for this purpose and only for this purpose,” LANA quoted Libya’s UN-backed government’s Foreign Ministry as saying.
The Foreign Ministry statement came after Libya’s UN-backed Premier Fayez al-Sarraj on Thursday denied asking Rome “to send Italian navy vessels to Libya’s territorial waters… or fighter planes into Libyan airspace.
“Such allegations … are without any foundations,” Sarraj was quoted as saying in the statement issued by Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Sarraj said he had also asked Rome “to support border guards” in southern Libya, the main entry point for migrants heading for Europe’s shores, and to supply an electronic surveillance system.
After a meeting in Rome with Sarraj on Wednesday, Gentiloni announced the government was considering a formal request from the GNA to send naval ships into Libyan territorial waters to help fight human trafficking and said he the plan would be debated by Italy’s parliament next week – remarks that appeared to have concerned Tripoli.
Planes, helicopters and drones would also be deployed in the planned Italian naval mission, Corriere della Sera newspaper reported on Thursday without stating its sources.
Most migrants set sail from Libya, where people smugglers operate freely in the chaos that has gripped the country since the 2011 ousting of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi. In recent years, the great majority of boat migrants arriving in Europe have landed in Italy.
Some 600,000 migrants and refugees have reached Italy from Libya, since 2014 and Rome is eager to stop the human traffickers’ boats setting sail from the lawless North African country. Italy has been at the forefront of efforts to make Libyan coastguard more effective and is already helping train and equip it and to upgrade its fleet.
Libyan officials have said the coastguard need far more equipment than that supplied to date, however.