Thursday

21st Mar 2019

Italy voices cautious approach to chaos in Libya

  • (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Italy on Monday (16 February) ruled out military intervention in Libya to help restore order as armed militants from the Islamic state expand their presence in the oil-rich country.

“We are following events closely and with concern but there is no need to jump from total indifference to hysteria and an unreasonable reaction,” Italian PM Matteo Renzi told TG5 television in an interview.

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  • Islamic state fighters beheaded 21 Egyptian christians (Photo: BRC)

Calls for Rome to lead a coalition of 5,000 ground troops were floated by Italy’s defence minister Roberta Pinotti.

Foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni had also said Italy was ready to fight as part of a larger international effort to contain the violence in the near lawless country should UN-led diplomatic efforts fail.

Similar comments were made by interior minister Angelino Alfano who told La Repubblica newspaper that Italy needs to intervene with an UN-backed mission of peacekeeping forces after Isis fighters over the weekend released video showing the decapitation of 21 Egyptian Christian workers.

“There is not a minute to lose. We have to intervene in Libya with a UN mission. The international community must understand that it is crucial for the future of the West,” he said.

But Renzi, in a telephone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, agreed to pursue diplomatic efforts after Egypt launched retaliation airstrikes against the militants in Libya on Monday.

The strikes reportedly killed 64 Isis fighters, including three from the leadership, in the coastal cities of Derna and Sirte.

A loose coalition of militias vying for power with the rival government in Tripoli has helped, in part, to create the space for criminal organisations like the Islamic state and human smuggling networks to operate.

Islamic militant factions in the east and south of the country have reportedly pledged their allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with battles raging between government forces and jihadist fighters in Libya’s second largest city Benghazi.

The UN refugee agency says the fighting in the city since last May has displaced over 100,000 people.

EU leaders at summit in Brussels last week have also ruled out any military intervention, opting instead for a political solution to a conflict that kicked off when dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in 2011.

They noted, in a joint-statement, that the evidence of increased activity of terrorist and extremist groups pose a threat “to the future stability of the country, region and the EU”.

Located on the northern edge of the African coastline, Libya is around 300 km from Italy and has become the launch pad for ten of thousands of migrants seeking refuge and asylum in Europe.

Many are fleeing persecution, war, and poverty from Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other parts of Africa.

The mass exodus has seen a recent surge of Italian-led rescue operations at sea with over 2,000 scooped up from a large dinghies in the past few days.

Last week, over 330 drowned in bad weather, sparking calls for EU member states to contribute more to the Italian-led rescue operations.

In 2014, around 218,000 people crossed the Mediterranean. Around 3,500 lives were lost in the effort.

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