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Libya 'a priority' Italy's foreign minister says during Tripoli visit

"Italy will ensure Irini is geographically balanced and can work effectively," Di Maio said. [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 June, 2020

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Rome and Tripoli are reworking a 2017 memorandum on migration.

Italy's foreign minister met the head of Libya's unity government during a lightning trip to Tripoli on Wednesday, weeks after the UN-recognised administration pushed back militia leader Khalifa Haftar's bid to seize the capital.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and head of the Government of National Accord Fayez Al-Sarraj stressed "the need to resume the political process and end foreign interference" in Libya, according to a statement from Sarraj's office.

Libya is "our priority in terms of foreign policy and national security", Di Maio said.

The country splitting in two would be "unacceptable" and would lead to further conflict, he added.

Referring to the European Union's Irini naval operation launched in the Mediterranean to enforce an arms embargo on Libya, where foreign powers jostling for influence, Sarraj said enforcement must be "global", covering maritime, land and air routes.

"Italy will ensure Irini is geographically balanced and can work effectively," Di Maio told journalists on his return to Rome.

Sarraj, whose government has received weapons from Turkey, has previously criticised Irini on the grounds it favours eastern-based Haftar, who takes delivery of arms overland and via air.

Egypt, Russia and the UAE have all supported Haftar in Libya, which has been mired in chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed long-time dictator Muammer Qaddafi.

Di Maio and Sarraj also discussed the struggle against illegal immigration, and Italy's support for de-mining Tripoli's war-ravaged southern suburbs, according to the Libyan prime minister's office.

The Italian minister said dialogue "between Italy and Libya never stopped, even in the most dramatic moment of the (coronavirus) pandemic", which ravaged the country.

He last visited Libya in January.

Rome and Tripoli are in the process of reworking a 2017 memorandum on migration. Di Maio said he would look closely at the latest suggestions "which appear to want to ensure a full respect for human rights".

A technical committee would meet to discuss the modifications further on 2 July, he said.

The Arab League on Tuesday called for the withdrawal of foreign forces in Libya and urged talks on ending the conflict in the North African country.

The Turkish-backed GNA has recently made major military gains against Haftar's forces, rolling back his year-long campaign to oust Sarraj's administration from the capital.

Cairo has warned that advances by Turkey-backed forces on the strategic Libyan city of Sirte could prompt an Egyptian military intervention.

The GNA denounced Cairo's statements as a "declaration of war".

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