Libya won't secure borders for "long time": envoy

TRIPOLI Tue Sep 20, 2011 2:34pm EDT

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya, a conduit to Europe for African migrants and a source of weapons for arms smugglers because of its war, will not be able to control all its borders for a long time due to the task's complexity, a European Union envoy said on Tuesday.

Western nations have a host of security concerns about the large north African country, including the circulation of large numbers of weapons following an uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, and the possibility the former strongman may slip out of the country and take refuge abroad.

Jim Moran, EU Head of Mission, told Reuters the sooner a government was formed by the former rebels who overthrew Gaddafi the sooner the country could decide how best the international community could help it improve its border management.

Niger, one of Libya's six neighbors, on Sept 14 described the possibility that uncontrolled weapons could be leaving Libya as "explosive."

"The needs are very complex and the list is very long," Moran told Reuters.

"They've never really had the capability to properly control their borders. They probably won't be able to have it for quite a long time to come, given the enormous challenges ahead."

Moran said he had been talking to Interior Ministry officials about border security but Libya could not settle on a strategy until the postwar interim rulers appointed a government with the authority to take such decisions.

"We've had a lot of contacts with the ministry of interior. There is still no interim government in place and the sooner there is the better. So when you talk to the (ministry's) services, they are in a little bit of a vacuum, a little bit in a void."

The former rebels' executive committee, or cabinet, was dissolved last month. A new committee, to include officials responsible for defense and interior affairs, was supposed to be appointed by interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril on Sunday.

But the talks broke down when his proposals did not receive full backing from all current members.

Western states have given their support to the rebel forces which, after six months of fighting, ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule, but they are concerned groups such as al Qaeda's North African wing could exploit any power vacuum.

Analysts and Western government officials have raised such concerns, as has Algeria, which said during the war that its al Qaeda Islamist enemies may have acquired weaponry including SAM-7 portable anti-aircraft missiles from Libya.

"What they need above all is know-how and expertise to develop a strategy to improve border management. And that involves expertise and equipment, but the right kind of equipment will not be known until they get that strategy together," Moran said.

Libya, which borders Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia, has long been a favored gathering point from where thousands of African migrants have set sail to cross into Europe via the Italian island of Lampedusa off the southern coast of Sicily.

A deal between Gaddafi and Italy to send migrants back before they entered Italian waters curbed the flow of migrants -- until the Libyan uprising earlier this year swept away strict border controls and drew a fresh wave of migrants.

(Editing by Christian Lowe and)

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