Libya’s UN-backed unity government has denied reports that it had given Italy a green light to establish a “logistics hub” on Libya’s southern border.
After a Friday meeting of the Italy-Libya cooperation council, Italy’s Interior Ministry announced that Tripoli had agreed to allow Italy to build an EU-funded “logistics base” in southern Libya.
According to the ministry, the base was to be used by Libyan border guards deployed along the country’s southern frontier.
But in remarks published Saturday night on the Tripoli government’s Facebook page, Tareq Shanpour, head of the Libyan Interior Ministry’s coastal security department (and a member of the Italy-Libya council), denied that any such agreement had been struck.
“The [committee] meeting discussed ways of improving joint coastal security and combating illegal immigration and smuggling,” he said.
Any understandings reached at Friday’s meeting, he added, did not include the establishment of military bases “as alleged in the media”.
The denial, however, did not stop Aguila Saleh, speaker of Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament, from blasting the alleged agreement.
“Allowing Italy to send a mission to southern Libya would be viewed as foreign interference in our country’s affairs,” he said in statements broadcast by Libya’s private Al-Nabaa television channel.
The Tripoli-based unity government, Saleh asserted, “does not have the right to make such agreements as it doesn’t enjoy parliament’s confidence”.
Once an Italian colony, Libya now serves as a transit point to Europe for African migrants and refugees fleeing conflict or poor economic conditions at home.
Libya has remained in turmoil since 2011, when a bloody uprising ended with the ouster and death of President Muammar Gaddafi after more than four decades in power.
Since then, the country’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government, one in Tobruk and another in capital Tripoli.
In late 2015, Libya’s rival governments — backed by the UN — agreed to establish a unity government in hopes of resolving the country’s ongoing political standoff.