PARIS: France will on Monday propose imposing European Union sanctions on any Libyan official obstructing the formation of a UN-backed unity government, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.
“I do not exclude threatening them with sanctions. In any case, that is what I will propose to my foreign affairs colleagues on Monday in Brussels,” Ayrault told the iTELE news channel.
“Now, we can wait no longer,” he added, denouncing those who “put themselves in the way out of self-interest”.
The sanctions would likely consist of travel bans to the EU and asset freezes, and target the speaker of Libya’s internationally recognised parliament, Aguila Saleh, as well as Nuri Abu Sahmein of the Tripoli-based General National Congress and its head Khalifa Ghweil, a European diplomatic source said.
Libya has had rival parliaments and governments since 2014, after an Islamist-led militia alliance overran Tripoli and forced the internationally recognised administration to flee to the remote east of the oil-rich nation.
Extremists including the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos, raising fears of jihadists using the Libyan coast as a launch pad to infiltrate Europe and launch attacks.
Western countries have agreed that military action is needed to dislodge IS in Libya, but world powers want a national unity government installed to request help before formally intervening.
“It would not make sense to impose travel bans and asset freezes on more than two or three people, because you would end up with no one to negotiate with,” added the Brussels-based source.
“But what is being proposed will be effective because Libyan politicians like to travel to Malta and Italy for shopping and medical treatment,” the source added.
A UN-backed national unity government, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, was proposed in January but rejected by the internationally recognised parliament.
The parliament, located in the remote eastern town of Tobruk, has since said it does support the unity government but was unable to hold a confidence vote on the line-up of a new administration because it lacked a quorum.
“There is a prime minister, Mr Sarraj, who is capable of directing (a unity government). A majority of MPs say they are in favour but the parliament cannot find a consensus because of barriers,” said Ayrault.
“We cannot continue with this situation that is a danger for Libyans, for the whole region and for Europe,” he added.
“We must fight Islamic State where it is trying to establish a foothold in Libya but before that a national unity government needs to be established.”
France, backed by Britain, needs to build support for the sanctions amongst other EU members. Many countries are reticent to vote on sanctions that have not been proposed by the United Nations.
Ayrault is expected to bring up the sanctions during a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris, to be attended by the United States, Britain, Italy, Germany and the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.