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Europe

EU to Lift Arms Embargo against Libya

The European Union on Wednesday agreed in principle to lift an arms embargo on Libya after pressure from Italy, which wants the Libyan government to help crack down on illegal immigration to the EU.

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The EU has improved ties with Libya's Moammar Gadhafi

Italy has for several months been pressing its EU counterparts to lift the embargo imposed on Libya in 1986, in order to be able to deliver equipment to Tripoli to beef up its border controls against illegal immigration.

"We are heading in the direction of lifting (the embargo). It still has to be confirmed by ministers," one EU diplomat told the AFP news agency, expressing caution since two or three national delegations were still consulting with their capitals. "But in principle there shouldn't be any surprises."

Sanctions were imposed on Libya because of its role in state-sponsored terrorism, including the 1986 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. They were partially eased last year, paving the way for Tripoli to compensate victims' families. In theory the ban should be lifted at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers, scheduled for October 11-12 in Luxembourg, officials said.

Italian pressure

The Italian government said last week it was determined to press the matter forward, even if the EU struggled to agree unanimously on the issue. Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said Rome was ready to take exceptional measures, including ignoring EU sanctions, to force the move through at EU level.

He said that if Italy's EU neighbors were not unanimous in wanting to lift the sanctions, Italy would do so unilaterally under a rule which allows such actions when a country is confronted by an exceptional problem. Italy considers Libya a major hub for clandestine migrants from African countries and has already signed cooperation agreements to help the Libyan authorities combat the problem.

Pisanu plans to travel to Libya on September 26. Tripoli has warned that it would be unable to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into Europe from its territory unless the EU lifted the sanctions.

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