EU may delay mission to train Libya coastguard
TRIPOLI - The EU may have to delay the launch of a mission to train Libyan coastguard officers to stop migrant smugglers because of concerns over vetting, diplomats said Sunday.
The commanders of the European Union naval mission known as Operation Sophia had hoped to start training by the end of September or middle of October, but two European diplomats said the unity government had still to provide a list of 100 initial candidates to be vetted.
"We are still waiting for the list," one diplomat said on condition of anonymity, adding that Fayez al-Sarraj's government faced a "complex task" as it did not yet have complete control over the strife-torn nation.
Once the EU receives the list, it will take about 20 days to study the names of the proposed candidates and check them against available databases, one of the diplomats said.
"These have to be loyal people, who are not involved in corruption, since they are going to be the multiplicators and will command operations on the Libyan side," one diplomat said.
Consequently, it is hard to see how the training mission, which was approved by the 28 EU member states over the summer, could start before mid-October, the sources said.
When asked about the likely delay, an EU official, asking not to be named, said: "What I can tell you is that we are now arranging the last details with our Libyan counterparts and we will start soon."
The EU launched Operation Sophia last year after hundreds of migrants died when their rickety boats sank off southern Italy, sparking popular outrage at their plight.
This Central Mediterranean route has seen more migrants risk their lives in recent months after the EU reached an accord with Turkey in March to halt an influx of more than a million refugees who crossed the Aegean Sea to reach Europe last year.
Operation Sophia currently comprises five vessels and three helicopters charged with intercepting smugglers' boats and destroying them, in international waters.