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16th Oct 2021

Security glitch risks delaying EU border mission

  • Tripoli skyline: Eubam Libya's new security detail was due to start on 1 November (Photo: Sebastia Giralt)

The EU has relaunched a tender for security guards for its border mission in Libya, but says the move will not delay the project.

The original plan was to hire 54 bodyguards and drivers at a cost of €6.2 million a year to start work on 1 November.

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The border mission, Eubam Libya, is deigned to help the post-war country create a border guard force to stop irregular migrants and smugglers.

Contacts in the private security sector told EUobserver that British firm Aegis was favourite to scoop the contract.

But the EU foreign service in late October abruptly cancelled the procedure.

It told this website on Monday (4 November): "We are re-launching the tender because none of the offers we received was suitable. We are therefore giving them more time and will allow all companies who responded to provide a new offer."

It added: "The tender process is not interfering with the [border mission's] deployment plan. Adequate provisions are currently in place and the tender situation will not lead to a delay in the deployment of mission staff."

It is unclear how long the new tender will take.

But the original one took four months to put together.

Each of the 11 companies which applied - including Aegis, Amarante, Argus, Control Risks, GardaWorld, Geos and G4S - had to submit detailed documents on legal eligibility, costs and staff qualifications based on an 85-page-long EU terms of reference paper.

Competition for EU contracts in Libya has been marked by a dirty tricks campaign by the bidders.

One firm circulated internal emails from the CEO of a competing company indicating that it had bribed Libyan security officials to get permits to operate in the country.

Another firm wrote to Libyan authorities saying that a competitor is in reality a mercenary force which could destabilise the country.

"As the West is not interested in a strong Libya, but only Libya’s oil + money, the only way to secure that is by making sure that no strong government/leadership emerges," it said in a letter seen by this website.

In the meantime, Eubam Libya is being guarded by Argus, a small, Cyprus-based company which also protects EU diplomats in Jordan and Yemen.

Eubam Libya is supposed to double its staff and to set up an operations HQ in Tripoli by the end of the first quarter next year.

But for the time being it is holed up in the Corinthia Hotel in the Libyan capital and is unable to travel outside the city for security reasons.

Even its Corinthia HQ is not free from risk.

When gunmen abducted Libyan PM Ali Zeidan from one wing of the hotel complex on 10 October, they also broke into Argus' operations room in an adjacent tower.

An EU source told this website that five men carrying AK47 rifles confronted a junior member of Argus' staff who was looking after the facility.

A more senior Argus employee, who spoke Arabic, then arrived to barter with the gunmen.

"He explained to them that the EU mission does not constitute a threat and he appealed to their sense of honour. In the end, they took a few bullet-proof vests and helmets, but no weapons, and they left peacefully," the source said.

The contact added that if the new tender does lead to delays, Eubam Libya risks losing credibility in the eyes of Libyan authorities.

"The Libyans were led to believe the mission would have a big impact on their border problems. But instead they've [the Eubam staff] been sitting around since April doing nothing," the contact said.

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