Libya border insecurity tops concerns: Tighter measures to be taken
PARIS - Top Libyan and Western officials on Tuesday agreed on a plan to improve security following the 2011 ouster of Moamer Gathafi, including tighter borders, disarming former fighters and training troops.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was joined for the talks by his Libyan counterpart Mohamed Abdulaziz and other top Libyan officials as well as the foreign ministers of Britain, Italy, Denmark, Turkey and Malta.
"Much has already been achieved but issues remain, including border security, weapons, the rule of law, human rights, etc," Fabius said.
He said international support for the Libyans came in many forms including "the rapid deployment of European experts to train Libyan security forces and police and help to rebuild the army, navy and air force."
Diplomatic sources said the talks were the result of serious concerns over Libyan security, including over the flood of weapons from Gathafi's storage depots across the region since his regime's demise.
Islamist rebels who took control of Mali last year are among those believed to have benefited from the looting of Gathafi's vast weapons storehouses.
"The security of North Africa is an integral part of the security of the Mediterranean as a whole," Libyan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz said, pointing out that his country's borders stretched over 6,000 kilometres (3,750 miles).
"Organised crime is very active, terrorism is very active," he said, calling for "a united front against terrorism."
A statement issued after the talks said an EU mission to help better border management would be deployed by June.
Tripoli has pledged to reform its judiciary, reform the prison system and promote national reconciliation through truth-seeking processes and trying to identify and locate missing persons.
Several Western governments have been alarmed at the deteriorating security situation in Libya's second city Benghazi and many ordered their nationals to evacuate last month citing fears of terrorist attacks to avenge France's military intervention in Mali to rout Islamist rebels in the vast arid north.
Abdulaziz had earlier said a spillover from Mali's crisis could undermine security in Libya with weapons and foreign Islamist fighters flowing back to the country.
He said on Tuesday that a government team was in the eastern city last week to hear local grievances and improve things, saying: "We are really trying to control the situation.
"Some uncontrolled elements are trying to exploit the situation," he added.
Benghazi is cradle of the uprising that toppled Moamer Gathafi in 2011 but also the city where a US ambassador was killed in an attack in September.
Abdulaziz said the situation in Benghazi was a legacy of Gathafi's rule.
"Benghazi and the east were very much marginalised. The same paradox exists in the south that also produced some kind of extremism."
Meanwhile, officials said that Libya will close its borders with Egypt and Tunisia for four days from Thursday as it marks the second anniversary of the start of the revolution that ousted Moamer Gathafi.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said international flights will also be suspended at all airports except for those of the capital Tripoli and second city Benghazi in the east, the official Lana news agency reported on Tuesday.
The "preventive" measures were decided after repeated calls for protests to be held nationwide, including some who have demanded a "second revolution" in protest at what they say is the new Libyan rulers' failure to push for reforms.
"On Monday night, a cabinet meeting decided a series of security measures concerning the protection of borders, air traffic control... from 2:30 am (0130 GMT) Thursday and until February 18," Zeidan said in the statement.
He said overseas flights will be suspended except for those taking off from the Tripoli and Benghazi airports.
"Border posts with Tunisia and Egypt will also be closed... during that same period," he said "to prevent any bid to undermine Libya's security and disrupt celebrations marking the anniversary of the revolution."
Security services have been placed on alert and checkpoints have been set up across Tripoli ahead of the anniversary marking the "February 17 revolution."