By Nigel Ash
Tripoli, 25 May 2013:
The European Union has signed off on a €30 million mission to help Libya improve its troubled and disorganised border security.
The project, to be known as the EU Integrated Border Management Assistance Mission (EUBAM), was been worked up with the government and a core EU team in the country since last month. It is to have 54 local staff working alongside 101 international personnel.
It will have no executive role whatsoever. It will focus entirely on helping Libya build up an effective Integrated Border Management system through training, mentoring and advice on strengthening the way in which different bodies work and moreover, work together.
Just how big the challenge is, was made clear at a recent workshop run by UNSMIL for the Border Guards, police, customs, coastguards and other interested parties. The UN organisation commented afterwards: “There is certainly no lack of Libyan will when it comes to securing the country’s borders. But the difficulty the Libyans face is the shortage of modern equipment, technology, experienced personnel and not least, the lack of comprehensive plan to ensure the vast frontier is sealed to militants, as well as smugglers of migrants, goods and drugs.”
The Chief of Staff of the Libyan Border Guard Force, Brigadier-General Abdul-Khaleq Al-Senussi said that his already challenging mission was made the more difficult, because he had only a quarter of the number of regulars he needed. He therefore had to rely on revolutionary brigades to augment his force in border patrols. He said his men needed weapons, vehicles and modern technology.
While thanking the UN and the European Union for their advisory support, Al-Senussi pointed out that the security of the region at large depended on how effectively Libya secures its borders.
“We need everyone to stand by us and help us,” he said, “We need a concerted effort, because maintaining security and stability means stability for the European Union and the Mediterranean area.”
Concerns about the need for better coordination between all the agencies involved, came up repeatedly.
Abdul-Rahman Al-Ageli, of the Decision Support Office at the Prime Minister’s Office, said: “Coordination is very important on the strategic level,” adding that the current problem was a lack of information, because there was no mechanism to gather and analyse data.
Brigadier-General Salem Al-Gharabi, Director of the Customs Authority, complained that previous meetings had yielded little progress on the issue. He too called for coordination among Libyan security branches.
Mukhtar Hassan Al-Ahrash, director of the Border Points, said equipment and technology should be able to offset the disadvantages of a vast country with a small population. He noted that there had been successes with coastal and aerial border patrols, but that the challenge lay along the remote southern desert border.
He added that those countries that fear the smuggling of weapons should stand up and support Libya, through training and technical expertise and modern equipment.
Lieutenant-Colonel Atef Salem, representing the Libyan Navy, explained how the lack of clarity in jurisdiction among the various state bodies was reflecting negatively on the ground. “Defining jurisdiction is important, so no one will get confused,” he said.
It was agreed that there needed to be a single border security operations centre, into which all the different organisations responsible for securing Libya’s frontiers would feed all the intelligence they gathered, immediately they had gathered it.
In addition it was strongly recommended that all revolutionary brigades and other irregular forces be incorporated into regular units.
The point was also made forcefully by a number of participants that a border has two sides. Bilateral cooperation agreements with neighbouring states should be reactivated or strengthened. Moreover it was seen that the problems of security had a lot to with the poor economic conditions in the south of the country.
There was an a call for new training centres in the region, improved living conditions and a campaign to raise awareness of the potential dangers of organised crime. Perhaps most importantly it was recognised that there needed to be a mechanism for national reconciliation which would embrace different tribes as well as Internally Displaced Persons.
The point was driven home by the Deputy President of the General National Congress, Saleh Al-Makhzoum, who pointed out that security and development were interlinked, given the remoteness of the border regions, particularly in the southern part of the country.
“There is frustration among the young because economic life has ground to a halt in those areas,” he said. “Development, small and medium size projects can absorb the youths and reduce tensions. This will turn them away from smuggling and terrorism,” he said.