Libya, Italy agree joint action on illegal migrants
Libya and Italy agreed on Thursday on joint action to stem the flow of illegal migrants across the Mediterranean after Libya rebuffed an Italian proposal to send troops to patrol Libyan ports and borders.
The agreement was announced after Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu held talks in Tripoli with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and other officials, including Justice and Public Order Minister Mohamed Ali Al-Musrati, in a bid to win Libya's backing for the proposal.
Italy's centre-right government, under fire for failing to do enough to fight illegal immigration, had said it was close to clinching an accord with Libya to send Italian soldiers to patrol Libyan ports and borders and turn back migrants.
But a joint statement issued before Pisanu flew home did not mention the proposal, saying only that the two governments were willing to make joint efforts to combat "undercurrents of illegal immigration."
They agreed on a plan to fight the networks that smuggle illegal immigrants into Italy through Libya and on joint operations to rescue boats carrying illegal immigrants in cases of accidents.
Rome will provide Libya with the aid needed to improve its efforts to curb illegal immigration from its poor neighbours in north Africa and sub-Saharan regions, the statement added.
Officials in Tripoli say the north African state is also a "victim" of illegal immigration and is willing to join the fight but lacks the necessary equipment and resources.
Libyan officials said decade-old U.N. sanctions against Libya over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing had prevented it from buying equipment such as night vision goggles to help control its long borders with poor sub-Saharan African states.
They said officials in Italy and other European countries had promised to lift the embargo but had yet to make good on their pledge.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said fighting the tide of illegal migrants would be a priority during Italy's six-month presidency of the European Union, which began this week.
The number of such immigrants reaching Italy has risen in the past month, increasing the pressure on the Italian government to tackle illegal immigration more effectively.
More than 3,000 migrants, mainly from North Africa and the Middle East, have landed in Italy in the past five weeks.
At least 30 migrants were confirmed drowned and more than 200 were missing after rickety boats carrying them to Italy sank in the Mediterranean recently in three separate accidents.