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EU set to launch Mediterranean mission against smugglers

European Union foreign ministers are preparing a military mission in the Mediterranean Sea aimed at fighting people smugglers' networks. The first stage will evaluate how the traffickers profit from migrants' misery.

EU member states gave their go-ahead on Friday to a 700-page operational plan for the three-stage mission, according to media reports.

"Everything is now in place so that EU foreign ministers meeting Monday can approve the launch of the mission," an EU diplomat told the AFP news agency.

A migrant boat that capsized earlier this year and killed an estimated 800 people spurred European Union leaders into action. After the incident many calls rose for them to formulate a plan to cope with the thousands of refugees trying to reach Europe and to target the human traffickers profiting from the migrants' misery.

Intelligence gathering

The first phase contains maritime and airborne surveillance activities aimed at collecting information about smugglers' activities.

"Several EU member states have so far pledged to take part in the operation, which will require ships, aircraft and drones, the EU official said, without going into details. Germany is expected to contribute two vessels, according to military sources.

This first phase of intelligence gathering is meant to be followed by active intervention to disable smugglers' vessels and arrest the traffickers, the German news agency DPA reported.

Active intervention to follow

The second and the third phases of the operation are aimed at disrupting smugglers' business model by intercepting boats that transport migrants. However, these two phases are on hold while the EU seeks the backing of Libyan authorities and a United Nations Security Council mandate.

These activities could include seizing or even destroying vessels and equipment which could be carried out on high seas or in Libyan waters, depending on what kind of mandate is granted, DPA reported.

Without the UN mandate, it is highly unlikely the European Union would move ahead with the second and third phases of the operation.

Libya, a country which is undergoing a power struggle between two rival governments, has been a main staging point for smugglers sending migrants to the sea.

Any migrants rescued by military crews under the operational plan will likely be taken to Greece and Italy, the anonymous EU diplomat told DPA.

ra/sms (dpa, AFP)

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