Al-Serraj denies asking Italy to send ships into Libyan waters to combat human traffickers

Migrants and refugees sit on a rubber boat before to be rescued by the ship Topaz Responder run by Maltese NGO Moas and Italian Red Cross off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea, on November 5, 2016 off the coast of Libya

Libya’s UN-backed unity government chief has denied that an agreement has been struck with Rome to deploy Italian vessels in Libyan waters to combat human trafficking.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj “denies having asked Italy to send naval vessels into Libya’s territorial waters… or fighter planes into Libyan airspace”, his Government of National Accord (GNA) said in a statement lateon Thursday.

“Such allegations… are without any foundation,” Sarraj was quoted as saying in the statement. “Libya’s national sovereignty is a red line that nobody must cross.”

Tripoli and Rome had agreed to “complete its (Italy’s) support programme for (Libya’s) coastguard through training and armament to allow it to save migrants’ lives and to confront the criminal (trafficking) gangs”, Sarraj said.

The GNA chief, whose administration’s control of the lawless country is limited, said he had also asked Rome “to support border guards” in southern Libya, the main entry point for migrants aiming to reach the shores of Europe, and to supply an electronic surveillance system.

Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Thursday that a government plan to deploy vessels in Libyan territorial waters to help fight human trafficking would be presented to parliament in Rome next week.

The cabinet was “discussing the details” of a request from Tripoli for assistance, he said.

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