March 15, 2015 / 3:43 PM / in 3 years

EU proposal to send soldiers to Libya met with skepticism

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini addresses the 28th Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva March 3, 2015. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini wants the EU to consider sending soldiers to Libya to back up a potential national unity government but the plan has met with skepticism from EU governments worried about the risks.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will discuss whether to authorize Mogherini to draw up proposals for a possible mission to Libya in the event U.N.-brokered talks to resolve a political crisis there bear fruit.

Libya has descended into chaos, with two rival governments and armed factions battling for power and oil wealth.

Mogherini has floated the idea of the 28-nation EU sending a team to Libya to monitor a ceasefire or to protect airports and other infrastructure if the talks led by U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon succeed. She has also suggested EU ships could help police an arms embargo.

EU diplomats said Mogherini’s plans would necessarily entail sending some European soldiers to Libya, where Islamic State militants have established a presence.

A senior EU official said the bloc could consider sending both military and civilian teams - soldiers to protect the government and civilians to help with counter-terrorism and other areas.

Diplomats from several member states were wary about being rushed into a decision.

“We’d like to see an agreement first ... and we’d like to see the detail of an ask from the U.N. before we start committing ourselves politically to planning operations which would be risky and which would bring us into an extraordinarily volatile country,” said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Ministers were likely to back a statement on Monday asking Mogherini to present proposals as soon as possible on a potential EU mission to Libya, but it would contain no specifics, the diplomat said.

Italy, Mogherini’s home country, and France want the EU to act to stop the chaos in Libya. Italy is struggling to cope with a wave of migrants, many of whom set off from Libya to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats.

The EU has sent military or civilian teams to help a number of countries recover from conflicts. The bloc sent border security experts to Libya in 2013 but they were forced to move to Tunisia a year later.

A new EU mission would require both a request from Libya and a mandate from the U.N. Security Council, where support from veto-wielding Russia and China could not be taken for granted, diplomats said.

Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Rosalind Russell

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