Italy parliament gives green light for sending warships into Libyan waters

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

Italy’s parliament authorized on Wednesday a limited naval mission to help Libya’s coastguard curb migrant flows, which have become a source of growing political friction ahead of national elections expected early next year.

An Italian official said Rome planned to send two boats to Libyan waters, with Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti saying the vessels would only provide technical support and would not infringe on the north African country’s sovereignty.

Italy announced the operation last week, saying it had been requested by Libya’s U.N.-backed government. It initially hoped to send six ships into Libyan territorial waters, but the plans had to be scaled back following protests from Tripoli.

“(We will) provide logistical, technical and operational support for Libyan naval vessels, helping them and supporting them in shared and coordinated actions,” Pinotti told parliament on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

“There will be no harm done or slight given to Libyan sovereignty, because, if anything, our aim is to strengthen Libyan sovereignty,” she added, stressing that Italy had no intention of imposing a blockade on Libya’s coast.

The lower house voted by 328 to 113 in favor of the mission. The upper house was also expected to back the measure when it votes later in the day.

After a surge in migrant arrivals on boats from Libya at the start of the year the numbers of newcomers has slowed in recent weeks and the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that 95,215 people had reached Italy so far this year, down 2.7 percent on the same period in 2016.

Some 2,230 migrants, most of them Africans fleeing poverty and violence back home, have died so far this year trying to make the sea crossing.

(Source: Reuters)

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