Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 June 2020

EU mission launches French and Greek vessels to enforce Libya embargo

Europe's foreign policy head said agreement on Operation Irini was 'very difficult'

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media through video conference in Brussels on Wednesday. AP
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media through video conference in Brussels on Wednesday. AP

The Greek frigate Hydra is to join two French vessels in patrols as part of the EU’s Operation Irini, the bloc’s naval mission aimed at enforcing Libya’s long-flouted arms embargo.

In a statement, the Greek armed forces said the frigate had departed the Hellenic Navy’s principal base at the island of Salamis and would begin patrols at the end of May. The Hydra is carrying a specialised team for Irini as well as a helicopter.

The Greek vessel will join two ships deployed earlier by France, the anti-aircraft frigate Jean Bart and the La Fayette-class frigate Aconit.

The EU’s naval mission, which became operational at the end of March and was agreed to in February, to enforce the 2011 UN’s weapons embargo on Libya.

A re-commitment to the blockade on military equipment and personnel was a major pledge at January 2020 international conference on Libya in Berlin.

A full launch of the EU mission has been prevented by disagreements among EU members and delays.

Italy, the EU member leading the naval mission, is still considering its own contribution.

File Photo: The German frigate Augsburg, pictured stationed off the coast of Libya during Operation Sophia in 2019 EPA
File Photo: The German frigate Augsburg, pictured stationed off the coast of Libya during Operation Sophia in 2019 EPA

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told legislators on Wednesday that the country’s contribution of three planes, a naval unit and 500 personnel was still under evaluation. Italy’s participation will also have to pass through its chambers of parliament to be authorised.

Malta withdrew its support at the last minute in a bid to influence the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Turkish government that backs it.

The GNA has protested against Operation Irini because the naval mission will stop the flow of weapons and fighters supplied by Turkey. Malta’s government hopes the GNA will help stem the flow of migrants from western Libya.

Speaking following a conference of European foreign ministers on Friday, the EU’s foreign policy head Josep Borrell told reporters it had been “very difficult to reach an agreement on Irnin” but that ultimately the purpose and scope of the mission had been properly finalised.

On the issue of Malta’s participation, Mr Borrell said some problems still had to be solved, though he hoped reservations on the issue of migration had been assuaged.

“We now have a problem that the foreign affairs minister of Malta assured me was going to be solved and I have also made a call to all member states that can support Malta in facing this recent wave of migrants,” he said.

“I hope, thanks to the help goodwill of others, we can solve the last problems that remain unsolved,” the EU’s chief diplomat said.

He emphasised the importance air surveillance was to have in operation Irini’s surveillance of arms trafficking into Libya and the spread of arms over Libya’s porous desert borders.

Among the assets secured for Operation Irini is a German P3C-Orion patrol aircraft as well as personnel staff. In total twenty nations are to participate in the mission.

The EU foreign policy chief also addressed ongoing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. Last week, the UAE with Cyprus, Egypt, France and Greece condemned recent attempts by Turkey to drill for gas in Cyprus’ territorial waters. Turkey has claimed waters around Cyprus and extending towards Libya after Ankara struck a deal with the GNA which granted access in exchange for military aid last year.

“EU stands with Cyprus and Greece and sends a clear signal and a firm message to Turkey that we uphold our principles and interest," Mr Borrell said.

Updated: May 15, 2020 11:39 PM

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