Russia resists European bid for nod to seize smugglers' boats

UNITED NATIONS • A European bid to obtain Security Council approval for a military operation against boats suspected of human smuggling on the Mediterranean Sea is running into opposition from Russia, which wants to ensure it cannot be used to justify a broader military intervention, diplomats said.

The Europeans are seeking a Security Council resolution, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, that would allow them to send their military forces to inspect and seize vessels used for smuggling migrants in the international waters of the Mediterranean.

Russia is still embittered over a resolution adopted in 2011, also under Chapter VII, authorising "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya and eventually paving the way for military intervention.

Russia abstained on that measure, allowing it to pass. It is now intent on thwarting any measure that could, in the future, permit further military action, said the Russian ambassador to the UN, Mr Vitaly I. Churkin.

"You cannot take this situation and produce a resolution which might allow, I don't know, nuclear bombing on the Mediterranean," he said in an interview on Monday.

The Europeans are seeking a Security Council resolution, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, that would allow them to send their military forces to inspect and seize vessels used for smuggling migrants in the international waters of the Mediterranean.

A draft was expected to be circulated among all 15 members of the council on Tuesday, and negotiations were to continue in the coming days.

Western diplomats said they were making progress and hoped the resolution could be adopted before the arrival of world leaders for the annual General Assembly session that starts at the end of the month.

The draft resolution is a step down from what the Europeans wanted earlier this year - to be able to go to the shores of Libya to seize smugglers' assets. That plan was quashed when the Libyan government authorities recognised by the West said they could not give permission.

The text that diplomats are negotiating now would allow European forces to inspect and seize the vessel of persons suspected of smuggling, without necessarily awaiting the permission of the vessel's flag state.

The people on the vessel would be taken to European shores, diplomats said, so they can apply for political asylum. Europe wants to prosecute the smugglers in its courts, as a way to disrupt a thriving international business. NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Russia resists European bid for nod to seize smugglers' boats'. Print Edition | Subscribe