Italy 'could send troops to Libya'

26.Jun.03,  first published by BBCnews: read the original article here.

Italy is close to signing an accord with Libya to send troops there to curb illegal immigration via the Mediterranean, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said.

Under the agreement, Italian soldiers would control Libyan ports and borders.

Speaking to the Senate in Rome, Mr Berlusconi said Italian ships would also be authorised to patrol Libyan waters.

The statement goes further than a previous Italian decision to supply Libya with night-vision goggles and other border-control equipment - subject to a partial lifting of the international arms embargo against Tripoli.

Libya - a former Italian colony - has already acknowledged that it cannot police its long sea and desert frontier.

Correspondents say the issue has gained urgency after more than 200 illegal migrants drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy in the last 10 days.

Mr Berlusconi said fighting the illegal tide of migrants would be a priority during Italy's six months at the helm of the European Union presidency starting in July.

A similar plan to stop illegal immigrants from Albania, which allows Italian military police to set up base in Albania and patrol the Adriatic, has been successful.

The Libyan authorities were unavailable for comment on the announcement.