The ambassadors of France, Britain and Spain arrive in Tripoli on April 14, 2016
The ambassadors of France, Britain and Spain arrive in Tripoli on April 14, 2016 © Mahmud Turkia - AFP
The ambassadors of France, Britain and Spain arrive in Tripoli on April 14, 2016
Last updated: January 1, 1970

European ambassadors arrive in Libya

A group of European ambassadors flew into Libya's capital Thursday for the first time since 2014 to support the unity government's struggle to end years of chaos exploited by jihadists.

French ambassador Antoine Sivan, Peter Millett of Britain and Spain's Jose Antonio Bordallo held talks with the Government of National Accord (GNA) at the Tripoli naval base where it has set up operations.

It was the first such mission since European Union member states closed their Tripoli embassies in 2014 because of unrest.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Tripoli, Millett said the visit sent "an important message to the Libyan people that we're supporting the unity government".

"Our goal is to achieve security and stability in Libya, and we look forward to returning to Tripoli to open the British embassy again," he said, speaking in Arabic.

The French and Spanish envoys also signalled their countries are preparing to reopen their diplomatic missions in the capital.

"We are very close to normality. We are very close to peace, and Libyan people deserve better," said Bordallo.

World powers see the unity government as vital to tackling a raging jihadist insurgency and rampant people smuggling in the North African state.

The French government said the visits were a show of solidarity with GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj and that Paris "stands alongside the national unity government in Tripoli".

"The unity government must exercise its authority over all (Libya's) administrations and financial institutions," said foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal, adding it could count of French support "in the struggle against the terrorist threat".

Sarraj arrived in Tripoli by sea with a naval escort two weeks ago and has since won the support of key institutions that control Libya's wealth.

Italy's Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni also visited Libya on Tuesday and said that embassies would be reopened in the capital in "the near future".

Libya has been plagued by instability since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted longtime ruler Moamer Kadhafi, with the Islamic State jihadist group taking advantage of the chaos to seize territory.

- 'Violation of sovereignty' -

European nations in particular have been alarmed by the expansion of IS in Libya, just 300 kilometres (185 miles) away from Italy across the Mediterranean.

The oil-rich country has had two rival administrations since mid-2014 when a militia alliance overran Tripoli, setting up its own authority and forcing the recognised parliament to flee to the remote east.

Sarraj has not yet received the endorsement of the country's internationally recognised parliament, and the head of the rival Tripoli-based administration, Khalifa Ghweil, has refused to recognise his authority.

But the new administration has won the backing of the Libyan Investment Authority, the National Oil Corporation and the Central Bank.

However, Ghweil, in an interview with an Italian newspaper published on Thursday condemned Gentiloni's visit.

"It's unacceptable. It’s the people of Libya who rule through the Tripoli parliament which gave us the mandate to govern," he told La Stampa daily.

Ghweil said such visits were a violation of Libyan sovereignty.

"We will make a complaint to the UN because it would be a violation of Libya’s sovereignty and we are ready to oppose it with all our means," he said.

The recognised legislature, for its part, is expected to meet on Monday for a vote of confidence in the unity government.

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