France says time to act on Libya, will push for EU sanctions
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault attends a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (not pictured) in Cairo, Egypt, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

PARIS: France’s foreign minister on Thursday said there was no time to waste in forming a Libyan government that would pave the way for action against Islamic State and he would push for sanctions against individuals at a European meeting next week.

French officials have been warning for more than a year that the political void is creating favorable conditions for Islamist groups. Efforts to establish a U.N. backed unity government in the oil producing nation have been stalled by resistance from hardliners.

“We have to fight Daesh where it is trying to develop in Libya, but the precondition is the constitution of a new national unity government,” Jean-Marc Ayrault told i-Tele television, referring to the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

“We can’t wait any longer. It’s enough. There are some who are blocking things for personal reasons and their own interests and I think we shouldn’t exclude putting sanctions on them.”

Ayrault said he would press for European foreign ministers to agree sanctions on individuals at a ministerial meeting in Brussels on March 14.

Diplomats renewed discussions this week on imposing travel bans and asset freezes on certain individuals, although a consensus among the 28 nations has yet to be reached with diplomats, saying Greece in particular was opposed to the move.

“We can’t let the Libyan situation continue. It’s not only a danger for the Libyans, but the region and it threatens Europe,” Ayrault said.

The United Nations is seeking to unite factions and militias that have competed for power since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and Western powers say the U.N. process is the only hope of bringing stability and stemming Islamic militancy.

United Nations sanctions monitors said on Thursday Islamic State had greatly expanded its control over territory in Libya and the militants are now claiming to be the key defense for the North African state against foreign military intervention.

French aircraft have been conducting reconnaissance flights over Libya, where Paris took a leading role in a 2011 NATO air campaign that helped rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s autocratic rule.

Diplomats and Libyan officials have confirmed that French military advisers are currently operating on the ground in conjunction with Britain and the United States, which has already struck Islamic State targets in the country.

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