Italian FM: military intervention may worsen situation in Libya

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, standing as he addresses the Italian Senate, alongside Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti, in Rome on Wednesday. PHOTO: GIUSEPPE LAMI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, standing as he addresses the Italian Senate, alongside Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti, in Rome on Wednesday. PHOTO: GIUSEPPE LAMI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Italy won’t rush into a military intervention in Libya unless asked first by a national unity government formed in the troubled country, Italian Foreign MinisterPaolo Gentiloni said, reiterating that any military action there would need the preliminary approval of the Italian parliament.

In a parliamentary hearing on the Libyan situation on Wednesday, the minister also denied the payment of a ransom for the two Italian hostages kidnapped in Libya in July and freed last week.

Mr. Gentiloni reiterated that any mission to Libya will be decided in full respect of Italian and international law, as part of the United Nation-sponsored process that aims to establish a legitimate Libyan government.

“Italy will intervene [in Libya] only upon the request of a legitimate government there and after a go-ahead from the Italian parliament,” Mr. Gentiloni told Italian senators in the hearing.

The Italian Foreign Ministry warned, however, that the situation in Libya is still very confused, with myriad factions fighting against each other and Islamic State forces quickly gaining ground.

The Italian government, led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, is under increasing pressure to intervene militarily in Libya, given the deteriorating security in the country, and with the creation of a national unity government still uncertain despite a pact agreed upon last year.

Rome last month allowed armed U.S. drones to fly out of the Sicilian air base of Sigonella for military operations against Islamic State in Libya and across North Africa, a breakthrough for Washington after more than a year of negotiations.

Addressing concerns that the Italian government may be preparing large-scale military action in Libya, Mr. Gentiloni told senators that Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti is only “working to be ready to respond to possible security requests coming from the Libyan government, and nothing more.”

He added that a hasty military intervention in Libya “is not the right solution and could even aggravate the country’s problems.”

Mr. Gentiloni’s words came just a day after a bilateral meeting between Mr. Renzi and French President Francois Hollande in Venice, during which the two leaders addressed the Libyan situation.

In the joint press conference following Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Renzi reiterated that both Rome and Paris believe that the creation of a unity government in Libya is “an absolute priority.” But he warned Libya’s belligerent factions that the time left for reaching a deal “is not unlimited.”

Pressure on Mr. Renzi’s government to intervene in Libya intensified after two Italian hostages, who were kidnapped there in July, were killed in unclear circumstances in a shootout last week. Two other hostages have been freed and returned to Rome on Sunday.

Mr. Gentiloni told senators on Wednesday that “no ransom has been paid” to free the two Italian hostages and added that the overall circumstances of their kidnapping remain partially “obscure.”

He added that, at present, there was no claim for the kidnapping and no evidences that pointed to Islamic State involvement in it.

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