The European Union’s chief diplomat has called on the bloc’s member states to increase their support for a recently launched military mission aimed at enforcing a collapsing arms embargo on Libya.
Speaking during a video conference on Tuesday, Josep Borrell urged EU defence ministers to “provide all necessary assets and intelligence in order to strengthen the operation”.
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“We need navy and air assets,” he said at a news conference at the meeting’s conclusion, pointing out that the mission had only two boats and three aeroplanes at its disposal.
The operation, dubbed Irini after the Greek word for peace, was launched in late March with a view to halt arms shipments to the war-wracked North African nation.
A major oil producer, Libya has been mired in turmoil since 2011, when longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a NATO-backed uprising. An arms embargo was imposed in the same year but it has been repeatedly violated by several countries backing Libya’s rival factions, according to the United Nations.
Since 2014, the country has been split between two rival administrations. Currently, they are the Tripoli-based, internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the House of Representatives allied to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east.
Borrell said more than 30 ships have been checked since Irini became operational early last month, before adding: “But we can do more.”
The operation has come under heavy criticism for what some analyst perceive as a flawed approach that mostly targets Turkey’s delivery of arms to GNA.
Critics say Haftar’s forces, who mostly rely on shipment through air and land – most notably through the Libyan border with Egypt which the LNA controls – are hardly affected by the mission.
Haftar, whose forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia, has been unable to make significant progress since launching a military campaign in April 2019 to wrest control of the capital.
GNA forces in recent months were able to recapture large swaths of territory in western Libya, including Tarhuna, Haftar’s last stronghold in the region.
Last week, GNA forces said they had discovered eight suspected mass graves, most of them in and around Tarhuna, southeast of Tripoli.
On Tuesday, an official with Libya’s Red Crescent said the organisation had recovered 37 bodies found in the mass graves in Tarhuna.
Faisal Jelwal told a news conference in Tripoli the 37 bodies recovered were taken to a hospital in Misrata. Another 106 bodies were found at the Tarhouna hospital, Jelwal said, adding that specialised teams are trying to identify them.
LNA forces still control eastern and southern Libya, including most of the country’s oil facilities, and the city of Sirte, at the centre of a recent military escalation.