EU launches Mediter­ranean mi­grant mil­i­tary mis­sion

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

EU for­eign min­is­ters for­mally ap­proved Mon­day the launch of the first phase of a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion to tar­get peo­ple smug­glers in the Mediter­ranean, of­fi­cials said.

The ini­tial ships and air­craft to con­duct in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing mis­sions should be avail­able within a week, of­fi­cials said.

EU for­eign min­is­ter Fed­er­ica Mogherini said the 28-na­tion bloc had re­sponded quickly to the cri­sis wash­ing up on its south­ern shores.

“I am im­pressed by the una­nim­ity and speed with which we have put this to­gether,” Mogherini said as she ar­rived to chair the for­eign min­is­ters meet­ing.

The de­ci­sion comes af­ter se­ri­ous dif­fer­ences among mem­ber states over how to han­dle the thou­sands of mi­grants cross­ing the Mediter­ranean, with Italy, Greece and Malta bear­ing the brunt of the bur­den.

The loss of up to 800 peo­ple in April when their rick­ety boat sank forced the is­sue af­ter the bloc late last year had ac­tu­ally scaled down its search and res­cue oper­a­tions off south­ern Italy to Rome’s dis­may.

EU lead­ers agreed at an emer­gency sum­mit over­shad­owed by the dis­as­ter to for­mu­late a com­pre­hen­sive plan to tackle the prob­lem at source, in­clud­ing a mil­i­tary op­tion to go af­ter the peo­ple traf­fick­ers work­ing out of Libya.

The first phase of in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing is meant to be fol­lowed by ac­tive in­ter­ven­tion to board and dis­able smug­gler ves­sels and ar­rest the traf­fick­ers.

A third phase would ex­tend these ac­tions into Libyan ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters and pos­si­bly in­side the coun­try it­self — a ma­jor and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous com­mit­ment that some mem­ber states are re­luc­tant to take on.

To meet their reser­va­tions, the April sum­mit agreed that ad­vanc­ing to Phases 2 and 3 would re­quire a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion and agree­ment from Libya where ri­val fac­tions are fight­ing for con­trol and the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized gov­ern­ment has fled Tripoli to take up res­i­dence in Beng­hazi.

Mogherini re­called that the EU is do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to bro­ker an ac­cord be­tween the Libyan fac­tions on a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity but progress ap­pears lim­ited.

Rus­sia, a per­ma­nent and veto-wield­ing UNSC mem­ber, has made clear it wants to see Libyan con­sent be­fore any res­o­lu­tion is passed.

Broader Re­sponse to Cri­sis

The mis­sion, dubbed “EU NAV­FOR Med,” will ini­tially be based on five war­ships, two sub­marines, three mar­itime pa­trol air­craft with drones and he­li­copters in ad­di­tion, of­fi­cials said.

A se­nior EU of­fi­cial who asked not to be named said that com­man­ders were aware of the dan­gers in the op­er­a­tion, not­ing the pres­ence of the rad­i­cal Is­lamic State ji­hadi group in Libya and re­cent at­tacks on mer­chant ship­ping by the ri­val fac­tions.

Mogherini said the mis­sion would tar­get the “busi­ness model of those who ben­e­fit from the mis­ery of the mi­grants.”

She stressed, how­ever, that the mil­i­tary op­tion should be seen as only part of a broader strat­egy to deal with a prob­lem tak­ing on Bib­li­cal pro­por­tions.

Some 100,000 mi­grants have crossed the Mediter­ranean so far this year, most of them land­ing in Italy, Greece and Malta which all want their EU peers to share more of the bur­den.

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