EU ratch­ets sur­veil­lance of smug­glers

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

LUX­EM­BOURG — The Euro­pean Union will use sub­marines, war­ships, drones and he­li­copters in an op­er­a­tion to gather in­tel­li­gence on gangs who smug­gle thou­sands of asy­lum-seek­ers to Europe from Libya, of­fi­cials said on Mon­day.

EU for­eign min­is­ters agreed at a meet­ing in Lux­em­bourg to launch the op­er­a­tion even though it will be lim­ited to in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing for now be­cause it has yet to ob­tain U.N. au­tho­riza­tion.

The op­er­a­tion is part of a stepped-up Euro­pean re­sponse to a surge of mi­grants from Africa and the Mid­dle East mak­ing the dan­ger­ous cross­ing from Libya to Europe.

Many have drowned in the Mediter­ranean, in­clud­ing around 800 killed in a shipwreck in April.

The op­er­a­tion, as ini­tially en­vis­aged, was in­tended to dis­rupt the mi­grant traf­fick­ers’ busi­ness and to cap­ture and de­stroy their ships, pos­si­bly even in Libyan wa­ters.

But the EU would re­quire a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion and con­sent from the Libyan author­i­ties to op­er­ate in Libyan ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters and coastal ar­eas and it has nei­ther so far.

“Let me be very clear: The tar­gets are not the mi­grants, the tar­gets are those that are mak­ing money on their lives and too of­ten on their deaths.

“It is part of our ef­fort to save lives,” EU for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini told re­porters.

About 10 coun­tries have of­fered five war­ships, two sub­marines, three re­con­nais­sance air­craft, two sur­veil­lance drones and three he­li­copters for the op­er­a­tion, as well as around 1,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel, an EU of­fi­cial said.

The planes and ships would be­gin mov­ing into in­ter­na­tional wa­ters off Libya “in the com­ing days” but it would take a month for the mis­sion to be fully up and run­ning, the of­fi­cial said.

Re­flect­ing the po­ten­tial dan­gers, the EU of­fi­cial said mer­chant ships out­side Libyan ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters had twice re­cently been at­tacked by fighter air­craft us­ing rock­ets and coastal ar­tillery, and armed traf­fick­ers had threat­ened peo­ple try­ing to save mi­grants.

If the EU ships come across mi­grants at sea, they will help res­cue them.

EU of­fi­cials still hope for Libyan con­sent and a U.N. res­o­lu­tion later that would al­low them to tackle the traf­fick­ers.

The EU would only be able to move to more ag­gres­sive ac­tions if EU for­eign min­is­ters gave the go-ahead.

— Reuters

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