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Feb 15 2015
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Italy closes embassy in conflict-riven Libya; urges UN mission

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Italy closes embassy in conflict-riven Libya; urges UN mission

Italy closed its embassy in Libya on Sunday due to the worsening conflict there and stepped up its call for a UN mission to help calm the situation.

Libya is unravelling as a state with two rival governments operating their own armed forces under separate parliaments, nearly four years after the civil war that led to the overthrow and death of leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"The deteriorating situation in Libya made it necessary to close (the embassy)," Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a statement. Embassy staff have been sent back to Italy by boat, the ministry said.

Intensifying violence in Libya, where Islamic State is also active, is particularly alarming to Italy because the two countries are separated only by a relatively narrow stretch of sea. Many migrants attempt the crossing from North Africa to Italy in unsafe boats.

Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said in an interview with Il Messaggero newspaper on Sunday that groups in Libya that have been infiltrated by extremists should be "anaesthetized" and a peace-keeping mission should be carried out across the country.

"If we sent 5,000 up to men to Afghanistan, in a country like Libya that concerns us much more closely and in which the risk of deterioration is much more worrying for Italy, our mission could be substantial and demanding, also in terms of numbers," Pinotti said.

No decision had been made about exactly how to proceed, Pinotti said in the interview, published two days after Gentiloni said Italy was "ready to fight" in Libya if needed.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Saturday that the UN needed to carry out a stronger political and diplomatic mission in Libya, and Italy would not "set out on its own".

In the early part of the 20th century Italy was the colonial power in Libya and it still follows Libyan affairs closely.

 
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REUTERS
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