EU’s Libya naval mission to begin work ‘within days’

EU to monitor arms embargo against Libya with new naval mission [EPA-EFE/FOCKE STRANGMANN]

The EU’s delayed naval mission to enforce an arms embargo on Libya will be ready to begin work in the coming days, EU officials confirmed on Wednesday (29 April), two days after Libyan militia commander Khalifa Haftar terminated a 2015 UN agreement, reducing the chances of a political solution to the conflict.

After clearing last-minute objections to the mission’s objectives, the EU officially launched its new IRINI naval mission to enforce a UN arms embargo in April, but did not set out which member states will contribute to the operation.

Operation IRINI was supposed to start when Operation Sophia, which was set up in 2015 to fight people-smuggling across the Mediterranean at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, ended on 31 March.

But the new mission was held up for nearly a month by bickering between Italy and Greece over who should hold the command and objections from Austria and Hungary that it would create a de facto rescue fleet that would ferry migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe.

On Monday (27 April), agreement was reached among EU member states to equip the new operation with ships, planes and satellites to monitor arms smugglers who supply Libya’s two rival governments, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

“IRINI has the necessary resources to begin its mission,” Peter Stano, spokesman for EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, told reporters in Brussels.

According to diplomatic sources, an Italian navy ship will reach the zone of operations in the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, which will be supported initially by other EU nations’ ships in the area, until the arrival of vessels actually attached to Operation IRINI.

Asked for the amount of assets to participate in the mission, Stano said a “vast number of member states were able to commit providing assets for Operation IRINI”.

EU finalises 'Operation Irini' to enforce Libya arms embargo

The EU will launch its new naval mission to enforce an UN arms embargo on Libya by the end of the month, but it still needs to be determined which member states will contribute to the operation, EU’s chef diplomat Joseph Borrell said on Tuesday (31 March).

“That means that the initial phase is over, but there is still work to be done in beefing it up with assets and resources,” Stano added.

Member states have promised three naval assets and three aerial assets, which will be complemented with an additional three naval assets and three aerial assets in so-called associated support.

“Associated support means it is temporarily and they will participate in the mission only for a specified time period”, added Stano.

Operation IRINI aims to enforce a porous UN arms embargo in and around Libya, where the UN-recognised Tripoli government of Fayez al-Sarraj is under attack from the forces of Khalifa Haftar, who controls much of the country’s south and east.

The announcement of the mission’s readiness also comes as troops of the internationally UN-recognized government in Libya have been fighting against troops of Khalifa Haftar for more than a year.

Libya’s conflict escalated sharply this month, with fierce fighting on different fronts in the west of the country despite urgent calls from the UN and aid agencies for a truce to tackle the coronavirus pandemic

On Monday, Haftar cancelled a 2015 UN agreement on the distribution of power in the country on the grounds that it would have destroyed the country and was “a thing of the past,” he said in a televised speech.

“It’s a farce and the latest in a long series of coups d’etat,” the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in the capital, Tripoli, said in a statement on Tuesday.

According to a report by Libyan Al Ahrar TV quoted by Al Jazeera, the head of Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has sent a message to the UN Security Council saying his country opposes Operation IRINI.

Al-Sarraj said the operation did not cover the airspace and borders through which arms and ammunition are reaching Haftar’s forces in eastern Libya.

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