NATO blocks "front door" for arms smugglers into Libya
NAPLES - A NATO maritime task force charged with preventing arms from entering Libya said Thursday they cannot be sure of blocking all routes into the country but "are closing the main front door."
"The sea is the easiest, fastest and most direct way to get arms into Libya. We are cutting off that area," Rinaldo Veri, head of Operation Protector told reporters at NATO's navy base in Naples, headquarters for the embargo mission.
"I hope we can close all the windows, but one thing is sure: we are closing the main front door," he said.
"The operation will assist in reducing the number of arms, related materials and mercenaries to and from the coastal waters of Libya," Veri said.
"Maritime assets supported by NATO aircraft are working to reduce the flow of war materials," and will support the UN resolution "to end the attacks on civilians in Libya," he said.
Italy, the UK, Greece, the US, Canada, Spain and Turkey have already offered ships to help enforce the embargo, Veri said.
He would not confirm reports that 16 vessels, including three submarines, have been offered by NATO members, because the operation force "is still being built up."
The mission aims to ensure the "free flow of legitimate ships in and out of Libya" whilst stopping and searching suspect vessels "using every means necessary."
"If we suspect a ship is attempting to breach the embargo... it may be necessary to send armed military aboard. If we encounter resistance, the use of force may be necessary," Veri said.
The operation began on Wednesday at 1700 GMT.
Six ships reached international waters off Libya while patrol aircraft and fighter jets headed to the area to provide long-range surveillance and intercept flights suspected of carrying weapons, NATO said.
Veri said he was "not aware that anything has been intercepted so far."