EU states may use military to rescue citizens


EUROPEAN governments are considering military interventions in Libya to help stranded citizens leave the country if the violence there escalates drastically.

Officials and diplomats said between 1,000 and 6,000 Europeans may remain in the country as troops loyal to Muammar Gadafy try to restrict access to airports. However, foreign nationals were still able to take commercial flights from the country yesterday.

“One of the possibilities we are working on in contingency plans for different scenarios is military intervention,” said a senior EU official.

Such intervention would be for “humanitarian” purposes only and made as a last resort in case of any breakdown in transport. The expectation is that special forces under national command would be deployed. An EU-co-ordinated action is unlikely.

Senior EU officials said “the major part” of Libya is under the control of rebels but said they had little information about who is leading the rebels or whether they are united or pursuing conflicting objectives.

EU authorities have also set in motion procedures to impose sanctions against his regime.

These include the freezing of assets held by the Gadafy family and visa bans. Embargoes on oil and gas imports are also being considered. Such measures are being resisted by Italy, which is heavily dependent on Libyan energy, and by Britain, which is the home of oil giant BP, a big investor in the country.

A source said sanctions were unlikely to be imposed until evacuations of foreign nationals were complete.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said in Brussels that countries facing rebellion “should move towards democratic institutions”, but told reporters that “we cannot use the same democratic pattern that is comfortable for us”. He added: “I remember that not long ago our partners we actively calling for free and democratic elections in the Palestinian autonomy . . . Hamas won and it was declared a terrorist organisation and they started fighting against it.”

EU justice ministers asked the European Commission to develop contingency plans to deal with any surge of migrants from Libya.

Although Italy and Malta fear they may be inundated with hundreds of thousands of migrants, the ministers stressed that this has yet to materialise. Ministers discussed whether they might have to invoke “temporary protection measures” to share among EU countries the burden on any single state from an influx of migrants.

A senior European diplomat said there was “huge reluctance” to go down that road but added that such a move might have to be made. Ireland has transposed the 2001 directive under which such procedures can be invoked.

Under discussion is the provision of assistance to member states to deal in their own territory with migrants. EU states may be asked to deploy French- and Arabic-speaking border police to another country.