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Libya’s Haftar requests helicopters from Europe to curb migration

Powerful Libyan military commander General Khalifa Haftar has requested helicopters and drones from Europe to curb rampant migration on Libya’s southern border.

Haftar, who supports the Libyan government based in the eastern city of Tobruk, traveled to Rome and Paris to bolster his stature as a main player in international efforts to stabilize the North African country.

“When it comes to controlling the southern border, my forces can supply the personnel but you Europeans must send help: drones, helicopters, night vision and vehicles,” the military commander said in an interview published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Friday.

Libya currently has two governments, one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other based in Tobruk. Haftar does not recognize the authority of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the UN.

Italy has been the strongest backer among Western allies for the GNA.

Libya has faced a power vacuum since a US-led military intervention resulted in the downfall of its longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since then, the country has been grappling with chaos and the emergence of numerous militant groups, including Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.

Since the ouster of Gaddafi, the country has also become a key departure point for refugees and asylum seekers, who risk their lives on ill-equipped boats in the hope of reaching Europe. The boats are usually intercepted by European vessels once they enter international waters.

“I have presented a plan based on the principle that Libya is not the arrival point but only a corridor for migrants who want to get to Europe,” Haftar said in the interview.

The photo released by the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) press office on May 25, 2016 shows a rescue operation of the navy during the shipwreck of an overcrowded boat of refugees off the Libyan coast. (Photo by AFP)

Haftar urged “all European countries interested in stopping migration” to revoke the UN arms embargo on Libya, which has been in place since 2011.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Haftar said Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti had “already accepted a training program for our soldiers in Italy.”

Pinotti, however, told parliament on Thursday that Italy did not take sides in the row between the rival governments in Libya.

“We want a united and peaceful Libya and we are ready to work with all those who intend to work peacefully for the unity of the country”, she said.

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