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EU plans to refocus 'Sophia' naval mission on Libya

January 20, 2020

Following a meeting of EU foreign ministers, the EU's foreign policy chief has said EU countries have agreed to restart the bloc's Mediterranean naval mission with a focus on enforcing an arms embargo on Libya.

Operation Sophia's German frigate 'Sachsen'
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Assanimoghaddam

The European Union's foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on Monday for talks on how to implement a peace process in Libya, as the country's ongoing internal conflict has turned it into a gateway for illegal migration into Europe. 

Following the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the EU would "refocus" its Mediterranean naval mission, Operation Sophia, to concentrate on upholding the UN arms embargo agreement against Libya. 

The EU naval mission was initially launched to stop human trafficking while also enforcing the UN arms embargo.

However, it collapsed in March 2019 under pressure from Italy's former populist government due to disagreements about distributing the people who were rescued.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Monday that Sophia could be used only if it is "dismantled and reassembled in a completely different way.''

"It must be a mission to monitor the embargo and nothing else," he said. 

Read moreJosep Borrell: The EU's next foreign policy chief

Map of the front lines in Libya

'Someone has to monitor it'

Borrell said he supported reviving the EU's naval mission off the Libyan coast, saying that the EU needs to do more to defend its interests.

"It's clear that the arms embargo requires [a] high level control and if you want to keep the ceasefire alive someone has to monitor it," Borrell said Monday.

Read moreEU 'to suspend ship patrols' on Mediterranean migrant mission

He also said the EU needs to expand its capability in the context of the Sophia mission. 

"The arms embargo has to be controlled not only by sea, because most of the arms go through the desert. We can control the sea, but we also have to control the land and air," he said, adding that this "will require satellite and air tools," which are not currently included in the Sophia mission. 

EU leaders proceed with caution 

Borrell said Monday there had been "no concrete decision" on monitoring the ceasefire, but added that ministers were discussing how the EU "can engage more forcefully."

Read moreOpinion: A glimmer of hope for old-school diplomacy

He said EU ambassadors and experts have been asked to present "concrete proposals on how to implement the ceasefire and enforce the UN arms embargo, by the time the next minister's meeting in Brussels on February 17. 

Monday's meeting follows on the heels of a Libya summit in Berlin on Sunday, where the EU vowed to do whatever was necessary to implement a United Nations arms embargo and any ceasefire.

Despite the agreements secured during the summit in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas cautioned that it would not lead to an immediate halt in fighting and that the issue still needs to be discussed in the UN Security Council.

"In this respect, yesterday was only the starting signal that the civil war in Libya could be turned into a political process," Maas told reporters.

World leaders at the summit in Berlin agreed to uphold a UN arms embargo and to end military backing for the country's warring factions. Foreign powers like Turkey, Russia, France and Egypt agreed to stop interfering in the conflict in Libya.

What is the Libya conflict?

Since the overthrow of long-standing ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has been in a state of flux. The UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) under Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj holds the capital Tripoli, but since last April, it has been under sustained attack by rebel general Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), which is supported by a rival administration based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

wmr,rs/ng (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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