UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations is largely rejecting a European Union plan to fight the growing migrant crisis that is centered in his crumbling country, saying his Western-backed government hasn’t even been consulted and ruling out EU forces on Libyan soil “at this stage.”
In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said the best way to resolve the issue is to arm the “legitimate” government. A rival regime is backed by Islamist-allied militias who have taken the capital, Tripoli.
And the ambassador warned that if there is no progress in U.N.-led peace talks between the two sides in the coming weeks, his government, which is under a U.N. arms embargo, “has to take necessary steps even to take the capital by force.”
Dabbashi said his government has been left out of the urgent international discussion of the migrant crisis, with thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa departing from Libya’s shore for Europe and many dying at sea. The crisis has grown amid the chaos that has consumed Libya since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, after a Security Council-authorized military intervention.
Diplomats have been working quickly on a draft Security Council resolution, which would be militarily enforceable, to authorize an European Union operation that would seize suspected migrant smuggling ships on the high seas, in Libya’s territorial waters and even on the country’s coast. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is due to brief the council Monday.
Council diplomats say Libya’s blessing is needed, especially for any EU ground forces in Libya. The council expects a request from Libyan authorities to allow that to happen, Lithuanian Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite, the current council president, said Thursday.
On Friday, Dabbashi gave a different impression.
“They never asked anything of us. Why should we send them this letter?” he asked. He added, “We will not accept any boots on the ground.”
He called the idea of deploying more boats to the waters off Libya to save migrants a “completely stupid decision” because it would encourage even more migrants to come to his country, further burdening local authorities.
And he rejected the idea of destroying the migrant smuggling boats, saying it would be difficult to distinguish between those and other boats.
The “only way out” of the migrant crisis, he said, is to help his government, based in the east, to extend its control throughout the country, which also is now facing the rise of groups aligned with the Islamic State organization.
“Once the government retakes the capital, Tripoli, and controls the whole western area of Libya, I think it would be very easy to stop this flow of illegal immigrants to Europe because we know everyone who is involved in this business,” he said, saying the smuggling operations are largely based in the west.
Several council members earlier this year blocked his government’s request to import a large shipment of arms amid concerns that weapons would fall into the wrong hands. Because of a U.N. arms embargo, Libya’s government must ask for exemptions to import arms.
A frustrated Dabbashi said arms are needed to fight the Islamic State group and that “the first victims” of such refusals will be Europe, saying “the terrorists will infiltrate … Europe itself.” He called on European governments to pressure council members to allow arms requests, and blamed two council members in particular, the United States and Britain.
“Maybe they don’t care if the immigration continues or not because they are far away from it,” he said.
Dabbashi said he expressed his views just two days ago in a meeting with a deputy U.S. ambassador, Michele Sison.
“The usual reply is, ‘We need a government of national unity’ in Libya,” he said. “But if there is no government of national unity, what should we do? We give the time for terrorists to expand in Libya.”
The U.N. missions for the U.S. and Britain did not comment. A spokeswoman for Murmokaite said all council members should see the draft resolution before Libya is consulted.
Some U.N. officials and diplomats are pressing for peace talks between Libya’s two governments to reach a deal by Ramadan, which begins in mid-June., saying that political stability in the country would help resolve the migrant crisis.
Dabbashi was wary of the timing for a deal but said his government has been “very flexible” in the talks.
Without progress there, and without council support, he said, “We will do it our own way. … Within months, Tripoli will be in the hands of the legitimate Libyan authorities.”
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