New maritime EU mission against arms smuggling to fight in Libya

A new EU mission, including ships and planes, will be set up to monitor the UN arms embargo against Libya. Foreign ministers have unanimously reached a political agreement on this, says EU foreign chief Josep Borrell after consultation in Brussels.

The details of that new maritime mission will be worked out in the coming weeks, so that a formal decision can be taken in more than a month. Borrell hopes that the mission can start at the end of March. According to him, many member states deliver bieden to ships. "We will take action if weapons are smuggled over the sea."

Ministers promised last month that they would work to guard the arms embargo that has been systematically violated by all warring parties for many years. Despite calls for a ceasefire, there is still plenty of fighting in Libya. How the arms trade should be tackled across the country is still unclear.

An earlier EU naval operation in the area was a mission that had to combat human smugglers. The EU ministers no longer support that plan for fear of an increase in migrants who would themselves cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat.

To alleviate these concerns, the naval vessels will operate further east of Libya in the new military mission, away from migration routes. The EU ministers want to prevent the mission from encouraging migrants to cross a boat. The ships that are deployed will retreat if there is nevertheless a strong increase in the number of migrants by sea.

Libya is in chaos after the 2011 revolution that drove dictator Moammar al-Gaddafi out of power. The oil-rich country has two rival governments: the Government of National Unity (GNA) in Tripoli, and the other with its seat in the eastern city of Tobruk, which is allied with General Khalifa Haftar.