A potential foreign military presence to combat illegal migration in Libya’s south would be considered an “attack” on the state, the Libyan National Army has said. There had been rumours certain Europeans countries wished to establish military bases on the pretext of combating migrant smuggling, an idea sharply rebuffed by the LNA. While no country was mentioned in particular, it was seen as a likely reference to Italy and its new anti-immigration government.
The LNA said it would “take all measures to protect the Libyan state…… so as to prevent any act that violates national sovereignty. This would be considered a flagrant violation of the rules of international law and a blatant attack on the Libyan state.”
Italy has conducted research over a potential military outpost on Libya’s southwestern border with Algeria recently and continues to do so. This led to protests in the town of Ghat, near to where the muted base would be. Images of furious locals stamping on an Italian flag were shared on social media and Ghat airport was briefly taken over by angry youngsters threatening to stop any Italian delegation landing.
The LNA has also sought to extend its influence in southern Libya and its regional capital Sebha, an area awash with smugglers, sub-Saharan mercenaries and fighters loyal to ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
The news came as disputes over migration continue to rumble in the European Union, Italy’s new, right-wing interior minister Matteo Salvini visited Libya’s capital of Tripoli this week for talks focused almost exclusively on migrants. Mr Salvini said migrant reception centres needed to be set up in Africa, not Europe.
He also promised to provide Libya with 12 boats to patrol its shores with, a move welcomed by the country’s embattled coastguard.
Previously senior figures in the coastguard and municipal councils governing migrant-smuggling hubs have complained to The National that, despite seemingly endless promises, "the Italians simply do no seem serious in actually helping us fight human trafficking."
Meanwhile, praise has flooded in for the LNA after its commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, announced Thursday that his forces had liberated the Jihadi stronghold of Derna after an offensive last nearly two months. UAE foreign minister Dr Anwar Gargash was among those to applaud the development, as was Libya’s eastern interim government, that backs Haftar, and the country’s House of Representatives.
While the official declaration of Derna’s liberation has come, LNA sources have conceded that occasional rival fighters were still likely holed up in the city. Reports said two LNA soldiers were killed today in sporadic exchanges of gunfire with militants.
Focus has now turned to making sure normal life returns to Derna soon. The Ministry of Health in the interim government said hospitals near to Derna had begun to suffer from overcrowding and needed to boost capacity. The Libyan Red Crescent Society has also begun removing dead bodies, having previously opened up humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave and aid to be brought into Derna.