Malta will vote to freeze financing for a naval mission monitoring arms traffic into Libya on Friday, saying its position will not change until the migration crisis is addressed.
Government sources told Times of Malta that Brussels would in the coming hours be notified that Malta will no longer commit any military assets to Operation Irini, a naval mission launched to enforce the arms embargo on war-torn Libya.
A senior government source said Malta would also be using its veto to block the planned extension of Operation Irini through the use of further military vessels.
Malta will vote to halt extending financing for the mission, which, the source said, means that once the existing financial allocation runs dry, the mission will run out of cash.
The source said the decision was partly motivated by the ongoing migration crisis, as Malta seeks to realign its position on the ongoing Libya conflict.
In its communication to Brussels, the government says the Malta is facing "an unprecedented crisis and disproportionate flows as a result of human smuggling and criminal activities in the central Mediterranean”.
In first quarter of 2020, there has been 438 per cent increase in migrant arrivals in Malta through this route, the government said.
"Our migrant centres are twice over the capacity and over the past years there were only eight relocation commitments for every 100,” a senior government source said.
Malta would therefore vote against financial extension for the mission and its position will not change until the situation facing Malta is acknowledged and adequately addressed.
Launched in April, Operation Irini has a one-year renewable mandate and is headquartered in Rome. The operation it replaced, Sophia, was effectively halted a year ago when Italy’s then right-wing government said it would no longer accept EU ships dropping off rescued migrants in Italy.
The vote will be taken during a special committee, which is responsible for examining and unanimously approving the financing and budgeting of military operations.
Government sources, meanwhile told Times of Malta that the move to leave Operation Irini, had partly been taken as the mission was “uneven”, impacting one side of the Libyan conflict much more than the other.
The situation in Libya has been deteriorating since military commander General Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli in April 2019.
After months of fighting, forces aligned with the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, have been scrambling to hold the capital.
The GNA receives the bulk of its arms and supplies from shipments at sea, however Haftar’s insurgency receives its supplies by air.
On the same day Irini was launched, Haftar's forces bombed a hospital, just as the COVID crisis had first kicked in, another source said, pointing out the unevenness of the mission.
This is a developing story and the article is being updated with new information.