Italy has sent back its ambassador back to Libya, its foreign ministry said on Monday (January 9), making it the first Western diplomatic mission to reopen in the divided country.
Italy closed its embassy in Libya in 2015 as rival factions descended into a conflict which has let people smugglers operate with impunity and Islamic State establish a firm foothold.
The foreign ministry said in a statement the ambassador would present his credentials to the local government on Tuesday (January 10). A ministry spokeswoman said he would then start work in Tripoli almost immediately, having received the approval of U.N.-backed Prime Minister Fayez Seraj’s government in December.
“The Italian ambassador is returning to Tripoli after two years. A great gesture of friendship to the Libyan people. Now more controls on migrant departures,” Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano wrote on Twitter.
More than half a million migrants have arrived on Italy’s southern shores in the past three years, many packed into boats by traffickers based in Libya.
Italy, which once counted Libya as a colony, has set up a military hospital near the western city of Misrata and leads the European Union’s Mediterranean mission which began training theLibyan coastguard in October.
Other Western diplomatic staff were evacuated from Libya in 2014 as lawlessness worsened three years after rebels toppled Muammar Gaddafi. While several countries have said they plan to reopen embassies, none have yet done so.
British and French ambassadors who presented credentials late last year are now based in Tunisia.