Posts Tagged ‘poland’

Polish President at Loggerheads With Ruling Party Over Army

August 9, 2017

WARSAW — Polish President Andrzej Duda has blocked the appointment of new generals, in a fresh sign of tension between the head of state and the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party that originally backed him.

Duda cited problems with a proposed new command system under government reform plans as his reason on Tuesday for blocking the appointments. His move came two weeks after he unexpectedly vetoed two controversial bills intended to reform the judicial system.

A source close to Duda’s administration said the nominations concerned around a dozen generals.

Deputy Defence Minister Tomasz Szatkowski said his ministry had invited the National Security Bureau, which advises the president, to help work on the army reform proposals.

“We are always available to the Bureau for additional clarifications or consultations,” Szatkowski told Reuters.

But some security analysts said Duda – who won the presidency in 2015 thanks to the support of PiS – was keen to demonstrate again his independence as both president and as commander in chief of Poland’s armed forces.

“This is probably less about the generals and more about the fact that the president decided it would be appropriate to say loudly and publicly that all options for a dialogue with the defense ministry have been exhausted,” said Marek Swierczynski, a security analyst at Polityka Insight, a think-tank.

NATO FRONTLINE

The spat comes as Poland plays host to more NATO troops as part of efforts to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank in the face of a more assertive Russia. Moscow has seized Ukraine’s Crimea region and backs armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Polish defense ministry presented a new defense concept in May that envisages significantly beefing up its armed forces and overhauling their command system. The president and the National Security Bureau have yet to respond to those plans.

Halina Szymanska, Duda’s chief of staff, told the state TVP Info news channel there was no conflict between the president and the defense ministry, but added: “First the work on building the new command and control structures needs to be completed and only then personnel decisions will be taken.”

Tomasz Siemoniak, a former defense minister in the Civic Platform government that lost power to PiS in 2015, said Duda’s stance was a challenge to the authority of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the most powerful man in Poland.

“The PiS leader is facing a difficult decision as to which side to support because this confrontation (between the president and defense ministry) is disastrous to the ruling camp and will be devastating for the military,” he told Reuters.

About a quarter of the Polish top brass has quit since PiS took power, citing disagreements with Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz over personnel and other decisions.

Swierczynski put the current vacancy rate among generals at nearly 50 percent, and he added that Duda’s decision to make his disagreement with the defense ministry public could harm Poland’s image in NATO as a stable, reliable ally.

“If we show that we cannot reach a compromise on such a key issue as national security … what does that say?”

(Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Open Conflict Triggers Concern Poland Might Leave EU Next

August 5, 2017

WARSAW, Poland — Since British voters endorsed leaving the European Union, politicians and pundits have ruminated on which of the bloc’s remaining 27 nations could be next. “Grexit” and “Frexit,” for Greece and France, were two subjects of speculation.

Now, months of open conflict between Poland’s conservative nationalist government and the rest of the EU has some Poles wondering if their leaders are putting the country on a path that could take it out of the union.

“There is a question mark over Poland’s European future today,” European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who is a critic of the ruling Law and Justice party, said Thursday.

Image result for Poland and EU flags, photos

The EU is widely popular in Poland, so the idea of the country abandoning the bloc strikes many people here as farfetched. Several surveys have shown public support for the EU standing at over 70 percent, approval stemming from the economic boom and freedom of travel that came with membership in 2004.

But members of the opposition in Poland increasingly are voicing fears that the conflicts between Warsaw and Brussels could eventually lead to a parting of ways.

They point to the defiant stance Law and Justice and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, adopted when the EU raised concerns about changes to Poland’s justice system and the extensive logging the government has ordered in a primeval forest that has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Government spokesman Rafal Bochenek insisted that Polish leaders intend to keep Poland in the bloc.

“Poland is a member of EU and is going to be a leading partner to other member states within the structure,” Bochenek told The Associated Press on Friday. “We have got many ambitious projects and challenges to realize in the EU. We will cooperate with our European partners.”

Law and Justice has never publicly advocated leaving the bloc, but criticizes what it views as unnecessary EU bureaucracy and infringements on the authority of member countries to make their own decisions.

In that vein, Poland’s government aggressively pushed through legislation to put the court system under the ruling party’s control. The EU’s executive arm has said the moves violate democratic norms by reducing judicial independence.

With Warsaw refusing to give in to the bloc’s calls for it to respect the separation of powers, the European Commission is threatening steps that could lead to Poland losing its EU voting rights.

The government also has continued logging in the Bialowieza Forest even though the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ordered it last week to stop felling trees immediately. If it continues, Poland could be hit with massive fines.

Katarzyna Lubnauer, a lawmaker with the opposition Modern party, said recently that because Poles are such “Euro-enthusiasts,” nobody in the ruling Law and Justice party would admit that leaving the bloc is their aim.

“But when we look at what is happening now, we have a deep sense that this departure is taking place,” Lubnauer said. “But it will happen in stages.”

Tusk made a similar argument Thursday, saying he viewed the “arrogant” refusal to obey the EU court’s logging decision as an “attempt to put Poland in conflict with the European Union.”

“It seems to me like a prelude to an announcement that Poland does not need the European Union and that Poland is not needed for the EU,” he said. “I think such a moment would be one of the most dangerous in our history. I am afraid we are closer than further to that moment.”

Bochenek, the government spokesman, called Tusk’s statement one of the many “lies” the former prime minister has told about Poland.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sees the formal steps taken over Poland’s judiciary as a way to maintain dialogue with Warsaw and resolve the problems, spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said.

“We are working to keep this union together,” Andreeva said.

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Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

Russia: Pence Balkans Comments Expose Washington’s Cold War Ideology

August 3, 2017

MOSCOW — Accusations made by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that Russia is working to divide the Balkans from the West are destabilizing southern Europe and expose Washington’s Cold War mentality, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

Pence made the comments on Wednesday in Montenegro on the final leg of a tour designed to reassure Eastern Europe of Washington’s commitment to its security despite doubts sowed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s lukewarm support for NATO.

“It is regrettable to note that Washington is sliding ever deeper into the primitive ideology of the Cold War era, which is completely detached from reality,” the ministry said.

It had called on the United States to stop defaming Russia and its foreign policy, which it said was based on respect for allies and a readiness to work with international partners, the ministry said in a statement.

Trump signed into law new sanctions against Russia on Wednesday, a move Moscow said amounted to a full-scale trade war and an end to hopes for better ties with the new U.S. administration.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Tusk Questioned by Polish Prosecutor Over 2010 Crash

August 3, 2017

WARSAW, Poland — Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has arrived at the national prosecutor’s office in his native Poland to be questioned as a witness in an investigation into the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski.

Tusk arrived Thursday morning surrounded by supporters chanting “Donald Tusk!”

Prosecutors previously said they want to question Tusk, who was Polish prime minister at the time of the crash in Russia, about why Poland failed to ensure the correct identification of the crash victims, some of whose remains got buried in the wrong graves.

There is a political element to the case given Poland’s most powerful politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president’s surviving twin brother, is a bitter political opponent of Tusk’s and accuses him of partial responsibility for the tragedy, something Tusk denies.

Related:

 Image result for Lech Kaczynski, smolensk, crash site

Poland Considers Demanding WWII Reparations From Germany

August 2, 2017

WARSAW, Poland — A lawmaker says Poland is looking into demanding reparations from Germany for the massive losses inflicted on Poland during World War II.

Arakadiusz Mularczyk, a lawmaker with the ruling Law and Justice party, said Wednesday the Polish parliament’s research office is preparing an analysis of whether to make the claim and will have it ready by August 11.

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said a day earlier that Germans should now “try and pay back the terrible debt they owe to the Polish people.”

World War II, which began with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, killed nearly 6 million Polish citizens and wrought huge material loss on the country, including the near destruction of Warsaw.

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and car

The men that destroyed Warsaw

Pentagon Offers Plan to Arm Ukraine

August 1, 2017

U.S. officials say proposal, which needs White House approval, is meant to deter Moscow aggression

Ukrainian national guardsmen are instructed on the proper technique for using a grenade launcher by an American soldier, right, on April 21, 2015 at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center near Yavoriv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian national guardsmen are instructed on the proper technique for using a grenade launcher by an American soldier, right, on April 21, 2015 at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center near Yavoriv, Ukraine. PHOTO: PETE KIEHART/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. Pentagon and State Department have devised plans to supply Ukraine with antitank missiles and other weaponry and are seeking White House approval, U.S. officials said, as Kiev battles Russia-backed separatists and ties between Moscow and Washington fray.

American military officials and diplomats say the arms, which they characterized as defensive, are meant to deter aggressive actions by Moscow, which the U.S. and others say has provided tanks and other sophisticated armaments as well as military advisers to rebels fighting the Kiev government.

Since Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and then began supporting Russian-speaking insurgents in the country’s east, Washington, wary of escalating the conflict, has largely limited its support for Kiev’s military to so-called non-lethal aid and training.

A senior administration official said there has been no decision on the armaments proposal and it wasn’t discussed at a high-level White House meeting on Russia last week. The official said President Donald Trump hasn’t been briefed on the plan and his position isn’t known.

Some U.S. and Ukrainian officials said they expect it could be months before the White House makes a final determination.

Any decision to provide arms to Ukraine would come against a backdrop of severely deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow. Russia said it would expel hundreds of American diplomats after the U.S. Congress last week approved new economic sanctions on Russia.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Michelle L. Baldanza, said the U.S. has not “ruled out the option” of providing “lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.” U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has endorsed the plan, according to U.S. officials.

A State Department spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

When the Obama administration considered supplying arms to Ukraine, it faced considerable opposition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other allied leaders and instead provided Kiev with short-range radar, night-vision goggles and other equipment.

Germany and France remain deeply skeptical about providing arms to Ukraine, fearing that such moves would raise tensions and deepen the conflict there. But U.S. officials said they expect allies, possibly including the U.K., Canada, Poland and Lithuania to be open to increased military support.

“It is really important we don’t inflame the situation,” said British National Security Adviser Mark Sedwell. “There has been quite a lot of agitation from across the border in the east.”

Roughly 10,000 people have died in the Ukraine conflict since 2014, according to the United Nations. Russian support for the rebels was thrown into sharp relief when a Malaysian passenger jet was shot down in July 2014 by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, according to international investigators.

U.S. officials say they worry that the conflict has intensified, with a rising number of cease-fire violations as progress on peace efforts has faltered.

“The level of violence is up a bit of late,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top U.S. and NATO military commander. “The Russians provide equipment, some of their most modern equipment, and they provide proxy forces with advisers.”

Russian officials have long denied supporting separatists and criticized Western efforts to train the Ukrainian military. Russian officials have said in recent days that any U.S. move to send weapons to Ukraine would further impair peace efforts.

Under the Pentagon and State Department proposal, the U.S. would provide anti-tank weapons, most likely Javelin missiles, as well as possibly anti-aircraft weapons, in addition to other arms. Ukraine has long sought Javelins to counter Russian-made armored vehicles in rebel-held areas.

U.S. officials, however, said the plan would be to deploy the anti-tank missiles with Ukrainian troops stationed away from the front lines of the conflict —part of an effort by policy makers to limit the risks of escalation and defuse criticism that the moves could encourage offensive action by Kiev.

Javelin missiles and launchers are lightweight and usually carried by two-man teams, so they are highly mobile.

Should Ukraine use the weapons improperly, Washington could decide to withdraw its support or technical assistance.

Kurt Volker, named U.S. special representative for Ukraine in July, met European officials last week and said a decision to provide “defensive weapons” was likely but not imminent, according to people involved in the discussions.

Officials said Mr. Volker believes there is a narrow window for progress in Ukraine over the next months before Russia’s presidential elections, due in March 2018, but that a change in the situation can only be brought by raising the costs for Moscow of continued intervention in Ukraine.

In public comments, Mr. Volker has played down the notion that supplying weapons to Ukraine would escalate the conflict with Russia.

A senior Ukrainian official said Monday that the fact of the Pentagon’s proposal could help persuade Russia to scale back actions in Ukraine’s east. The official also said it was widely accepted in Kiev that any advanced weapons from the U.S. would be used only in an “emergency” and not during regular combat with separatist forces.

U.S. and European officials are divided on how Moscow would respond to new arms shipments. Some believe it would push Moscow back to the bargaining table and others think it would prompt the Russian military to escalate the situation further.

But with violence rising in Ukraine and separatists making moves such as declaring their own government for the country, some Western officials think there is little to lose by trying to increase pressure.

The Trump administration has tried to find common ground with Russia. Moscow and Washington have had limited success in creating a safe zone in southwestern Syria and are eyeing other such zones.

But broader cooperation has become deeply complicated by Congressional investigations into Moscow’s interference in the U.S.’s 2016 presidential election and alleged Russian contacts with the Trump campaign.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com, Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com and Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

Appeared in the August 1, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump Advised To Arm Ukraine.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pentagon-offers-plan-to-arm-ukraine-1501520728

Poland to keep logging in ancient forest despite EU order

July 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The ancient forest of Bialowieza straddles Poland’s eastern border with Belarus
BRUSSELS (AFP) – Poland will keep logging in the ancient forest of Bialowieza despite an order from the EU’s top court to halt the practice, the country’s environment minister said Monday.The Court of Justice of the European Union last week ordered Poland to suspend logging operations there pending a final judgment on its dispute with the European Union.

But Environment Minister Jan Szyszko told journalists that operations would continue and that they were preparing a response to the Court, to be sent by Friday.

Polish television station TVN24 showed footage of machines felling trees in the forest, which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

And Greenpeace’s Polish spokesman told AFP: “The felling is continuing, even if it is at a lower intensity.”

On Saturday, a cameraman trying to establish if the felling operations were continuing was assaulted by employees of one of the logging companies, an incident that was condemned Monday by the authorities.

The European Union took Poland to the Court on July 13, arguing that the operations were destroying a forest that boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.

The Polish government said it had authorised the logging, which began in May last year, to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation and to fight the risk of forest fires.

But scientists, ecologists and the European Union have protested and activists allege the logging is a cover for commercial cutting of protected old-growth forests.

The forest, which straddles Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago.

The UNESCO committee overseeing the world heritage sites project has joined the EU in calling on Poland to halt the logging operations.

In EU-Poland Spat, Risks to Bloc’s Unity Loom

July 31, 2017

Warsaw’s efforts to overhaul judiciary spark concern in EU Commission about rule of law

People gathered for an antigovernment vigil in Krakow, Poland, on Wednesday.
People gathered for an antigovernment vigil in Krakow, Poland, on Wednesday. PHOTO: ARTUR WIDAK/NURPHOTO/ZUMA PRESS

The current standoff between the Polish government and the EU Commission over the rule of law risks becoming a new threat to EU cohesion. The dispute goes beyond disagreements over policy to the nature of the European project itself.

The Commission insists that the EU is above all a “community of law”: the rights that membership confers on its citizens hinge on EU law being enforced in all member states via domestic courts.

This makes the independence and impartiality of national judges a legitimate EU concern. And the Commission believes that recent attempts by the Polish government to overhaul the judiciary—including giving the minister of justice powers to dismiss current judges and appoint new ones—is the culmination of a campaign by Warsaw to bring the courts under political control in what one EU official calls a “systemic” assault on the rule of law and democratic values.

The crisis has hardly been defused by President Andrej Duda’s decision last week to veto two of the three proposed laws. The Commission fears that the ruling Law & Justice party might try to push through a similar law again.

Last week, the Commission set out for the first time the red lines which it says, if crossed, would lead it to launch a formal process that could lead to Poland being stripped of its EU voting rights. In particular, it said that any move by Warsaw to dismiss Supreme Court judges would lead to an immediate launch of this process—an unprecedented move that would pit the Commission directly against a national government and force member states to choose sides.

Of course, Warsaw sees things rather differently. Law & Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has long insisted that the judiciary, along with other organs of the Polish state, had remained bastions of the old Communist-era elite, which had hung on to its positions and privileges.

Indeed, he and his brother—former president Lech Kaczynski, who died in an air crash in 2010—founded Law & Justice with the goal of establishing a “Fourth Republic,” purged of former Communists.

The party believes overhauling the judiciary is vital, not just because it is the only institution that remains unreformed since Communist times, but because it believes the self-selecting judiciary is guilty of dispensing two-tier justice in which access to justice for most people is limited while those with connections are treated leniently.

Besides, the party argues that many democracies, including the U.S. and Germany, hand politicians a key role in selecting senior judges.

Mr. Duda shares this analysis—and indeed has promised to come up with his own proposals. The president’s decision to use his veto shouldn’t be seen as a victory for the Commission, said a person familiar with his thinking. He believes that the Commission has overreached by interfering in a domestic political issue: under the EU Treaties, the administration of justice is a national competence. Nor does he accept the idea that national judges are EU judges: since EU law is fully incorporated into Polish law and Polish courts defer to the European Court of Justice on questions of EU law, Mr. Duda believes the Commission’s concerns are unwarranted.

Mr. Duda was instead swayed partly by domestic political concerns, said the person familiar with his thinking: concerns that the government proposals placed too much power in the hands of the minister of justice, who is also the prosecutor general; and over the way they were driven through parliament without consultation, including with Mr. Duda himself, giving rise to major public protests that threatened to spill over into wider social unrest.

But also influential in Mr. Duda’s thinking was a series of private warnings by Poland’s partners in its “Three Seas Initiative” that this crisis risked straining Warsaw’s regional relationships. This loose alliance of all 12 former Communist Central and Eastern European EU members is a personal priority of Mr. Duda, who sees it as a potentially important new platform to project Polish economic and strategic interests. The alliance’s recent summit in Warsaw, which was attended by President Donald Trump, was a personal diplomatic triumph.

These interventions by Poland’s Three Seas partners could yet prove decisive in how this saga plays out.

After all, both Warsaw and the Commission know that while the Commission can launch a process to strip Poland of its EU voting rights, it will never succeed because that requires unanimity among the 27 member states and Hungary has promised to veto. But as Mr. Duda tries to steer a course between satisfying Mr. Kaczinski’s demand for a radical overhaul of the judiciary and maintaining public order, he will know that wider Polish interests are also at stake.

Not much unites the members of the Three Seas Initiative but what all of Poland’s central and eastern partners agree upon is the strategic threat to the region’s security from Russia—and a conviction that one of the most effective ways to stabilize Europe’s neighborhood is to hold out the prospect of EU membership to Ukraine and the Western Balkans.

Yet they also know that any prospect of further eastern expansion of the EU is viewed with deep suspicion in Northern and Western Europe, not least because of concerns over the rule of law. Nothing would be more certain to harden that opposition than the perception that the EU is powerless even to defend the rule of law in Poland.

Write to Simon Nixon at simon.nixon@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-eu-poland-spat-risks-to-blocs-unity-loom-1501434962?mod=e2fb

Pence Holds Talks With 3 Baltic Presidents — Discussion of Patriot missiles amid Russian Saber rattling — Putin’s naval parades spanned across 9 time zones

July 31, 2017

TALLINN, Estonia — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is visiting Estonia to meet the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to underscore America’s commitment to NATO and convey Washington’s support to the Baltic nations.

Pence will hold discussions Monday with Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, Raimonds Vejonis of Latvia and Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania on the second day of a European tour that also takes him to Georgia and Montenegro.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and suit

Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas (L) shakes hands with US Vice President Mike Pence prior talks in Tallinn on July 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

He will also meet NATO troops from Britain, France and the United States stationed in Estonia. The alliance has deployed some 4,000 troops and military hardware in the three Baltic states and Poland to counter Russia’s presence in the Baltic Sea region.

Washington’s pledge to commit to NATO’s mutual defense is a vital issue for the three small former Soviet republics that border Russia.

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Estonia’s prime minister says he has held talks with US Vice President Mike Pence over the possible deployment by Washington of the Patriot missile system to the Baltic state amid rising tensions between NATO states and Russia.

Following a Sunday meeting with Pence in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, Juri Ratas said Washington is considering deploying Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Estonia.

“We spoke about it today, but we didn’t talk about a date or time,” the premier told state broadcaster ERR.

“We talked about … [Russian] military maneuvers near the Estonian border… and how Estonia, the United States and NATO should monitor them,” Ratas added.

For his part, Pence reiterated US support for its East European and Baltic allies.

“Our allies in Eastern Europe can be confident that the United States of America stands with them,” he said.

Estonia was the first destination in Pence’s European tour, which will also take him to Georgia and Montenegro.

Moscow-Tallinn ties soured in 1991, when Estonia separated from the ex-Soviet Union and later joined both the EU and NATO in 2004.

Ahead of Pence’s visit, the Georgian army began a two-week military exercise with the United States along with a group of mainly NATO states, including Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia and Armenia on Sunday.

The US official plans to address the military drill participants on Tuesday.

Relations between Russia and the NATO military alliance started to deteriorate in 2014 over the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev’s army is engaged in deadly fighting with pro-Moscow forces.

Russia sees NATO’s military expansion near its borders as a security threat.

Russia marks Navy Day with drills

As the Georgia-US wargames kicked off, Russia launched its own military maneuvers to mark national Navy Day.

The naval parades spanned across 9 time zones within the country, as well as in the port of Tartus in Syria, where Russian forces are fighting Daesh terrorists.

This photo released by Sputnik shows the sea-borne landing on BTR-80 armored vehicle during naval parade in Vladivostok, July 30, 2017.

More than 100 military vessels as well as some 1,500 naval forces took part in the drills.

This photo released by Sputnik on July 30, 2017, shows Russian Navy ships during a parade to mark Navy Day in Kronshtadt.

Six Russian vessels and the newest diesel submarine from the Black Sea Fleet ‘Krasnodar’ paraded the waters of Tartus. Russian fighter aircraft from the Khmeimim airbase supported the sea maneuvers from the air.

This photo released by Sputnik on July 30, 2017, Russia President Vladimir Putin inspecting ships lined up in the Neva waters for the Main Naval Parade marking Navy Day, St. Petersburg.

President Vladimir Putin attended the parade in St. Petersburg, where he announced that 30 new vessels would join the Russian Navy fleet this year.

The Russian head of state has accused NATO of trying to embroil Moscow in a military confrontation by constant provocative actions.

http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2017/07/31/530221/Europe-Estonia-Pence-Russia

Migrant crisis: Italy backs force to police Libya shore — Effort to stem the influx of migrants into Europe

July 29, 2017

BBC News

The Italian navy destroyer Luigi Durand De La Penne in the Mediterranean Sea on 1 October 2015
Libya says Italian plans for a force of ships, planes and sailors led by a frigate would undermine its sovereignty. AFP photo

Italy’s cabinet has backed sending a mission to Libya to try to stem the influx of migrants.

The mission would help Libya “reinforce their capacity to control their borders and national territory”, said Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

It would reportedly comprise ships, planes and at least 700 sailors.

Mr Gentiloni claimed it had been requested by Libya, but the UN-backed government there vigorously denied making any such request.

In an earlier statement, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj said his administration had agreed to receive only training and arms from Italy.

“Libya’s national sovereignty is a red line that nobody must cross,” he said.

Mr Sarraj, whose administration’s control of Libya is limited, held a face-to-face meeting with Mr Gentiloni in Italy on Wednesday.

Mr Sarraj did acknowledge asking Rome for border guards in southern Libya in that meeting.

More than 94,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year, according to the UN. But more than 2,370 people have died trying.

Migrants picked up in Libyan coastal waters – and not international waters – can be legally returned to Libya, but aid workers say that conditions in Libyan migrant reception camps are dire.

The Italian mission to Libyan coastal waters would reportedly be led by a frigate.

A Libyan coast guardsman stands on a boat during the pick-up of 147 illegal immigrants attempting to reach Europe off the coastal town of Zawiyah, 45 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli, on 27 June 2017
European states have already been helping to beef up Libyan efforts to prevent migrants reaching international waters, where international law then prevents them being returned to Libya. AFP photo

The mission would contribute, Mr Gentiloni told the cabinet meeting, to Libya’s “path of stabilisation… and Italy feels it a duty to participate”.

The cabinet had “approved what the [Libyan] government requested, no more, no less,” he said. He later clarified that the initiative aimed to “support Libya sovereignty, it is not an initiative against Libyan sovereignty”.

He said full details of the plan would be presented to parliament on Tuesday.

Push-back plan

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would establish migrant registration centres or “hotspots” in Libya – and in the shorter term in Niger and Chad – to vet asylum seekers prior to their attempt to cross into Europe.

And in a letter to Mr Gentiloni last week, the Visegrad group of four (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) pledged financial support for Italian efforts to reduce the flow of irregular migrants from Libya and elsewhere.

Those efforts, the letter outlined, included “EU activities at the southern border of Libya” and the creation of migrant-vetting “hotspots” outside EU territory.

In remarks on 23 June, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán spelled out this view, telling journalists: “If we don’t want people from Libya to set out for Europe, we have to act accordingly – either on Libya’s northern or southern borders.

“Hungary announced that it supports the Italian-German initiative for us to set up check-points and introduce a monitoring system on Libya’s southern borders. Hungary is prepared to contribute to this with personnel or funding.”

Map showing Central Mediterranean migrant routes

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40750994