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Libyan general threatens to bomb Italian vessels as chats between smugglers and NGOs surface

Libyan General Khalifa Haftar has ordered his faction to bomb Italian vessels deployed in a mission to provide naval support to Libya, according to a tweet published by broadcaster Al Arabiya. The announcement comes after Italy impounded a German NGO vessel on suspicion of human trafficking.

Published: August 4, 2017, 12:06 pm

    Haftar’s order reportedly follows a vote of the Tobruk parliament tied to his faction, which expressed opposition to the Italian naval operation, saying the presence of foreign vessels in Libyan waters represented a “violation of national sovereignty”.

    Since the summer of 2014, political power has been split between two rival governments in Tripoli and in Tobruk, with the latter having been recognised by the international community before the creation of the Presidential Council.

    In mid-March 2011, Haftar entered Benghazi from Egypt to join the NATO-backed war on Libya. He took charge of the mercenary army.

    The Italian Lower House and Senate Wednesday voted in favor of the government’s naval mission to support the Libyan coast guard to combating human traffickers and help stem a migrant flow that is causing massive strain on the Italian authorities.

    With 328 in favor, the Italian parliament authorized the naval mission. Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said that the boats would only provide “technical support” and would not infringe on Libya’s sovereignty.

    Most of the over 95 000 migrants who landed in Italy up to date, started their journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya.

    Haftar as well as Tripoli-based Premier Fayez Sarraj met with the French president in Paris on July 25, AFP reported. Emmanuel Macron, invited both Fayez al-Sarraj, the unelected head of the Western-backed Libyan Presidential Council, and Khalifa Hafter, head of the so-called Libyan National Army and an “asset” of the CIA.

    Haftar continues to wield influence in Libya, despite his many battlefield failures. He had lived in the US for nearly twenty years before returning to Libya after the February 17 CIA-orchestrated insurrection.

    The two men subsequently agreed to suspend their armed struggle and hold parliamentary elections in the spring of 2018. On Wednesday, Sarraj visited Italian government officials in Rome.

    Italy seized the Iuventa, a boat operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet, and dispatched a navy patrol boat to Libya as part of an Italian attempt to end the Mediterranean migrant and refugee crisis.

    The vessel was impounded on the Italian island of Lampedusa on the orders of a prosecutor based in Trapani, Sicily, the state police force said.

    In Germany there has been a widespread willingness to assist and defend refugees. This readiness was confirmed a few weeks ago in a poll carried out by the European Broadcasting Agency. Almost 1 million young people between the ages of 18 and 35 were interviewed.

    Nearly three quarters – 72 percent – said they were willing to actively support immigrants. Some 78 percent of respondents in Germany said they noticed growing nationalism, which they considered “a bad thing”.

    But more than two-thirds – 67 percent – of young people in Germany and the overwhelming majority of young people surveyed said they were not ready to fight in a war.

    Italian undercover agents were aboard some vessels, confirming suspicion of NGO’s conspiring with human traffickers, but nobody has yet been officially charged, Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported.

    The Iuventa, has become a taxi for the refugees, and traffickers. The operators of the vessel even returned the small crafts of smugglers so they could transport more migrants.

    The German NGO was resisting, among other things, the demand of Italy to allow armed police on board the ships.

    The 33-meter vessel operated by the charity Jugend Rettet, is said to have rescued and brought thousands of Africans to Europe last year. The vessel has been kept on the Italian island of Lampedusa since Tuesday evening.

    The humanitarian groups say they are only interested in saving lives, but Ambrogio Cartosio, a public prosecutor from Trapani, announced that the authorities have been monitoring the activities of the Iuventa since last year.

    They allegedly noted at least three incidents when, instead of being rescued at sea, the migrants were simply “handed over” to the crew by people smugglers.

    “People on the Iuventa are believed to have taken on board, on at least two separate occasions, migrants escorted by Libyan traffickers whose lives were not in danger,” Cartosio said.

    “The evidence is serious. We have evidence of encounters between traffickers, who escorted illegal immigrants to the Iuventa, and members of the boat’s crew,” Cartosio added, as evidence of the alleged incidents was published by SkyTG24.

    Cartosio said that, so far, no suspects had been singled out or legal charges pressed.

    Investigators took some computers on board the Iuventa ship, which was seized yesterday at the disposition of the prosecutor in Trapani while he was in Lampedusa. On PCs the police will make technical inquiries. All the on-board tools that “tell” the movements of the boat involved in the rescue of migrants will also be examined by the investigators.

    The impounding comes days after Jugend Rettet joined several NGOs which refused to sign a new code of conduct for Mediterranean activist groups.

    Italian physician Stefano Spinelli, former co-ordinator of the Rainbow for Africa tells of a meeting in Rome in May among all the NGOs where Msf and Save the Children refused to retreat from the Libyan coast. “They have said that the proposal is unacceptable for staying at 24 miles means not to help no migrant.”

    Contacts were allegedly made on WhatsApp by the German ship of Jugend Rettet, “always in the front row” according to insider Italian sources. Even the members of the security firm working on Vos Hestia, the ship of Save the Children, working alongside Iuventa were part of the messaging group.

    Chat messages on Whattsapp among the team leaders of the humanitarian ships were very “suspiciuous”, Italian sources said.

    Chats, according to the two security operators, from the Eritrean priest Don Mussie Zerai, who have always been the reference point for Eritreans who are trying to cross the border, often appeared.

    The Italian authorities seized the ship on the suspicion of the illegal migration, as the Italian police confirmed on Wednesday.

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