France raises threat of EU sanctions on those hampering Libya talks

France says it will propose next week that the European Union pursue sanctions for Libya, as fears mount that the Islamic State extremist group is taking advantage of political instability to establish itself in the northern African country.

The United Nations has been trying to broker an agreement between the internationally recognized parliament in Tobruk and a rival Islamist-leaning administration that controls the capital Tripoli.

The EU has long warned that it could use restrictive measures to put pressure on those hampering the process.

"I don't exclude that we can threaten sanctions. In any case, that is what I will propose to my [EU] foreign minister colleagues on Monday in Brussels," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in an interview with broadcaster iTele.

France had said in February that it would support levying sanctions against "those knowingly hindering the political process."

A source in the French Foreign Ministry said there are small numbers of radicals in both political camps in Libya who are trying to derail consensus.

An EU diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said discussions were focusing on three individuals who are deemed to be "spoilers to the process," saying there was "quite broad support" for implementing sanctions.

A formal decision is not expected at the foreign ministers' meeting, but could follow shortly after, the diplomat said. Much will depend on whether UN envoy Martin Kobler would support such a move. He will be meeting with the EU foreign ministers over lunch on Monday.

There has also been speculation that the West could mount a military offensive in Libya, but Ayrault said that it was not time for such action, while underlining that the threat of Islamic State in Libya was real.

"We cannot continue with this situation, which poses a danger to Libyans and to the entire region; which threatens Tunisia and threatens Europe," he said.

Italy has also been resisting the idea of military action.

"To think that an outside military intervention could compensate for the lack of an agreement between Libyan parties would be crazy," Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti told the newspaper l'Unita.

"The question now is not how to intervene and how many boots to put on the ground, but completing the political process," she added.

Asked about press reports on the presence in Libya of special operations forces from France, Britain and Italy, Pinotti said "no Italian soldier is present in Libya" and refused to comment about other countries' operations.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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