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24th Jun 2021

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EU mulls using new 'peace' fund to help Libyan coast guard

  • The commander of the EU's naval Operation Irini is tasked with preventing weapons from entering Libya (Photo: Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI)

The EU is mulling the use of a special budget, designed to deliver military aid, to support Libya's coast guard.

The idea was proposed in an internal document by the EU's foreign policy branch, the EEAS.

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  • Screen grab of the internal document (Photo: EUobserver)

"The EU should engage more not only politically but also within the overall capacity-building initiatives," states the document, dated February this year, and seen by EUobserver.

The document was signed off by the commander of Operation Irini. Irini is the EU's naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea, intended to prevent weapons from entering Libya.

The document proposes using the so-called European Peace Facility as part of a deal to relaunch stalled Libyan coast guard training exercises. The European Peace Facility, brokered by the French, comes with a €5bn purse and allows the EU to shore up armies in Africa, and elsewhere.

The money is placed in an off-budget because the EU is banned from using EU funds to finance foreign military operations.

Last month, member states backed the proposal, which means the European Peace Facility is now up and running, allowing the EU to be more assertive abroad.

"These measures may include supplying military and defence related equipment, infrastructure or assistance," it said, in a press statement in March.

The EU says safeguards ensure military assistance, such as small arms and ammunition, will not end up in the wrong hands.

But not everyone is convinced - including German Green MEP Hannah Neumann.

"Although a strict control regime is mentioned, we have already seen in the past that rules are interpreted in a very lax way," she said in March.

The Libyan coast guard is already being used by the European Union to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from reaching European soil.

A recent investigation by Lighthouse Reports, with Der Spiegel, Libération and ARD Monitor, revealed the EU's border agency Frontex is collaborating directly with the guard.

But some of its members are also linked to various Libyan militias, known to torture and extort migrants for ransoms in detention centres.

The EU's naval operation Sophia was training the Libyan coast guard between 2016 and 2020, as part of wider effort to create a Libyan search and rescue zone.

The idea is to get the Libyans to intercept migrants within that zone, returning them to a country wrecked by war. Around 9,500 people were intercepted last year.

Sophia has since been replaced by Irini, which now also wants to shore up the Libyan coast guard to create a "safe and secure environment" at sea.

But the Libyans are demanding more patrol vessels and aircraft, a request that could see the EU use its new €5bn peace facility.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has been vocal about its potential use in the past. "We need guns, we need arms, we need military capacities," he had said early last year.

"And that is what we are going to help provide to our African friends because their security is our security," he added, in comments directed towards other conflict areas in Africa like the Sahel.

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