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German naval role off Libya extended

July 7, 2016

The navy's involvement in the EU mission off Libya has been extended by Germany's parliament to include checks to deter weapon smugglers. The opposition argues the task should focus more on rescuing migrants.

Mittelmeer Einsatz Bundesmarine Flüchtlingsrettung
Image: Bundeswehr/PAO Mittelmeer/dpa

Germany's federal parliament has extended patrols by two naval ships in the EU-led mission "Sophia" off Libya. The decision on Thursday was in line with a UN resolution last month to stop inflows of weapons, especially to so-called "Islamic State" (IS) insurgents.

Former rebels remain the main power brokers in oil-rich Libya where three months ago a new UN-backed unity government established a foothold in Tripoli.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition used its majority on Thursday evening to mandate its military to continue patrols within the EU mission until the end of June 2017.

Parliament's mandate endorses the use of up to 950 German military personnel following an EU Council of Ministers' decison in late June to also train and support Libyan coastguard and navy units.

Currently, some 400 personnel on two German naval vessels are involved in the EU-led mission codenamed EUNAVFOR MED.

Operation "Sophia," named after a rescued new-born baby, involves 22 nations.

Safe, legal routes, say Greens

The opposition Greens in their rival motion called on the Bundestag to switch German military involvement in Operation "Sophia" to rescuing more migrants and to seek safe, legal routes for refugees to reach Europe in accordance with UN conventions.

The Greens said the tragic loss of life of migrants while risking Mediterranean crossings from Libya to Europe "must finally be ended," adding that Germany and the EU should also focus on UN efforts to find a political solution to Libya's conflict.

More bodies recovered

Italian authorities said Thursday that experts had recovered the skeletal remains of 217 people from the sunken fishing boat lifted from the bed of the Mediterranean last week and taken to Sicily.

Of the estimated 800 occupants on board, only 28 people were rescued from the boat which sank in collision with a freighter on April 19 2015.

The UN refugee agency estimates that since the start of this year 2,800 migrants have lost their lives while trying to cross the Mediterranean, mostly between Libya and Italy.

ipj/jm (dpa, AFP)