EU considers bigger naval presence to tackle Libya security issues

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 07, 2015 7:42 AM

By Alistair Scrutton and Aija Krutaine

RIGA (Reuters) - The European Union is discussing with the United Nations ways to bolster security in Libya, including a naval presence, if U.N.-backed peace talks lead to a settlement, the EU's foreign policy head said on Saturday.

Libya's warring factions had held talks on Thursday in an effort to end a conflict between two rival governments that threatens to drive the country into full-blown civil war.

The EU currently has ships that patrol the Mediterranean Sea to help rescue migrants trying to flee from Libya and other North African countries. But Federica Mogherini said this presence could go further.

"We discussed different options for an EU presence, different ways in which the EU can support also through security measures. This could mean also some naval presence," Mogherini told a news conference in the Latvian capital of Riga after talks between EU foreign ministers.

An internal EU document in January seen by Reuters discussed the possibility of NATO carrying out inspections of vessels in the Mediterranean to reinforce an arms embargo.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the EU was looking at reinforcing its naval operation to help to rescue migrants on the high seas as well as bolstering security.

"There are operations for preventing terrorist threats and the Italian navy is doing its work and a lot depends from the success of the negotiations in Libya," he said.

Italy was due to begin annual naval exercises earlier this week near the coast of Libya.

On Friday, Mogherini said an EU team could monitor a ceasefire if one was agreed in Libya, or it could protect basic infrastructure.

The EU's discussions follow pressure from southern EU members, led by France and Italy. They want EU action to prevent Islamist militants from strengthening their position in Libya and to stem the flow of migrants reaching Europe from Libya.

Egyptian jets bombed Islamic State targets in Libya last month after the group there released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Riga, Julia Fioretti in Brussels. Editing by Jane Merriman)