Representatives of Libya’s quarrelling factions and of countries keen on stabilizing the country started meetings in Sicily yesterday, as Italy encourages a political settlement that could bolster the fight against Islamic militants and stop illegal migrants from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe’s southern shores.
Italy’s anti-migrant populist government organized the two-day conference in Palermo with an eye to making progress on a long-elusive goal of ending years of lawlessness in Libya.
Rival Libyan administrations jockey for power, militias clash in often deadly bids to boost prestige and influence, and human traffickers exploit the chaos to pursue their lucrative business from their base in the North African country.
Arriving a few hours before a closed working dinner to begin the conference, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters the conference aims to “help end the armed conflicts and to help the Libyan stabilization process” in the framework of the United Nations.
READ ALSO: Stolen funds must be returned – Buhari
Eventually, the West hopes Libyans will have democratic election, but the conference isn’t aiming to fix a date. “We want the Libyan people to be able to democratically decide their own future,” Conte said.
Libya plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and it is now governed by rival administrations in the east and west with both relying on the support of militias.
It has also become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups, including several from neighboring countries, which survive on looting and human trafficking, particularly in the remote south of the country.
In an interview published yesterday in Italian daily La Stampa, Conte portrayed the gathering as an opportunity to “sustain the creation and deployment of regular armed forces and security forces.”
For rights advocates, the conference posed another kind of opportunity: To draw attention to the plight of migrants trapped in Libya, now that the nearly nightly launching of human traffickers’ boats from Libya’s coasts has sharply dropped off as Italy and Malta have closed their ports to private rescue groups’ vessels.