Libya minister warns Italy on clandestine immigration

ROME Sat May 12, 2012 10:45am EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - A deteriorating security situation in southern Libya threatens to increase illegal immigration into Europe from Africa, Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour bin Khayyal said on Saturday during a visit to Rome.

"For the moment, the situation is not too bad but we have had indications that it could worsen. African immigrants have arrived at the Egyptian-Libyan border," he told reporters at a news conference with Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi.

"The numbers are not that big, but they could increase and that is why we are giving this warning," Bin Khayyal said.

Italy, which juts far out into the heart of the Mediterranean approaching Africa's coast, has borne the brunt of a crisis of clandestine immigration that has flared on and off in southern Europe for several years.

Tens of thousands of illegal migrants have made the crossing from North Africa, most risking the hazardous voyage in small, overcrowded fishing boats, and thousands have died as a result of shipwreck or harsh conditions at sea.

Bin Khayyal said unrest in the Sahel desert region of Libya's south, as well as violence by armed factions or former fighters who mounted the 2011 insurrection that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, were raising concern ahead of elections next month.

Terzi said it would be "unacceptable" for regional stability if Libya were to relapse into general bloodshed. He said the new government must come up with an adequate response in cooperation with foreign partners including Italy.

"On security, the spread of arms in the wake of the Libyan revolution is a source of concern for us, given the destabilizing effects it has within the country and the consequences for neighboring countries," he said.

Terzi said Italy was stepping up cooperation to improve monitoring and border controls and would seek a bigger contribution from European Union partners when he attended a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels next week.

"Immigration is a big, urgent issue to be tackled at European level," he said. "We need to get conditions in place rapidly to finance and make available the instruments the EU has, in partnership with the Libyan government."

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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