Libya leader offers NATO sea access if it upgrades navy

BRUSSELS (AP) — Libya's U.N.-backed prime minister said Wednesday NATO or European Union ships could be permitted to operate in Libyan waters alongside the national navy if those organizations help modernize his country's vessels.

The European Union wants to secure U.N. and Libyan backing to move its anti-smuggling mission Operation Sophia into Libyan waters to help prevent migrants reaching Europe.

"If there is something to be carried out jointly between the Libyan navy and any other party that would be interested in extending a hand to the Libyan navy, that would be possible," Prime Minister Fayez Serraj told reporters after talks in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"Of course, we have to modernize our navy flotilla and enhance its capacities. NATO or any other friendly nation on a bilateral basis could extend a hand in this," Serraj added.

Stoltenberg said that NATO stands ready to help Libya ensure security and strengthen its defense institutions.

"Looking to the future, we could offer advice on establishing a modern ministry of defense, a joint military staff, and security and intelligence services under civilian control," he said.

"If requested, we could also support the efforts of the European Union to strengthen the Libyan coast guard and navy," he added.

Serraj has struggled to consolidate his grip on power in a country split between rival governments, parliaments, and militias in eastern and western Libya.

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