The forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar on Friday rejected any foreign military presence in the south of the country to stem migration, after EU leaders struck a deal to deter Mediterranean crossings.
The bloc’s leaders agreed to consider setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside Europe, most likely in North Africa, to discourage migrants from boarding EU-bound boats.
Smugglers have taken advantage of the turmoil in Libya since the 2011 fall of long time leader Muammar Gaddafi to establish the country as a major people-trafficking hub.
Haftar heads the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and supports a parallel government in eastern Libya that challenges the authority of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli.
The LNA said any attempt by “foreign parties to deploy a military presence in some areas of southern Libya on the pretext of stemming illegal migrations” is rejected.
“The army’s general command warns these foreign parties that any such (military) deployment would be considered a flagrant violation of international law and a heinous aggression against Libyan sovereignty,” a statement said.
It added that the LNA would take “all the necessary measures to protect Libya and its borders”, without elaborating.
On Monday, GNA Vice President Ahmed Maiteeq said that the UN-backed government “categorically refuses” the installation of migrant centres in Libya.
Maiteeq made the remarks during a visit to Tripoli by Italy’s new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
During the visit Salvini had called for processing centres to be set up “south of Libya, on the external border of Libya” as a way to block attempts by migrants to head for Europe and “to help Libya as well”.
Haftar’s forces control much of eastern Libya and some regions in the country’s largely lawless south.
The strongman has been accused by his opponents of wanting to establish a new military dictatorship in Libya, which has been wracked by violence since the NATO-backed 2011 uprising.
Since then rival governments and militias have been competing for authority and oil wealth, and Islamists took advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold in the country.