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Italian foreign minister in Libya for talks on migrants and security

Officials discuss ways of curbing influx of migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya, as 6,000 migrants are rescued in two days
Illegal migrants, rescued by Libyan coastguard in Mediterranean Sea, arrive at naval base in capital Tripoli on Saturday (AFP)
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Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano on Saturday held talks in Tripoli with top Libyan officials on ways to curb illegal migration to Europe and peace efforts for the war-wracked country.

Alfano met Government of National Accord head Fayez al-Sarraj and his vice president Ahmad Meitig to discuss ways of curbing the influx of migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya, as authorities on Saturday said that hundreds of migrants were rescued by the Libyan coastguard.

Six years after a revolution that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

The Libyan judiciary in March suspended a deal struck the previous month between Libya and Italy aimed at bolstering joint efforts to stop the flow of migrants.

In April, the Italian government said that a dozen rival tribes in southern Libya had agreed to cooperate on securing the country's borders to prevent illegal migration.

Each year, thousands of people, mostly from sub-Saharan countries, board boats operated by traffickers in the country's west heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa, about 300km away.

In the first three months of 2017, more than 24,000 migrants arrived in Italy after making the perilous crossing from Libya, up from 18,000 in the first quarter of last year, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Alfano and Libyan leaders also discussed "efforts being made towards national reconciliation," the GNA said in a statement.

Alfano's trip to Libya came hot on the heels of a two-day visit on Thursday and Friday to the oil-rich North African nation by his British counterpart Boris Johnson.

Johnson met Sarraj on Thursday and congratulated him on meeting earlier this week in Abu Dhabi with Libyan military strongman Khalifa al-Haftar, who does not recognise the GNA's legitimacy.

Italy, too, has welcomed the meeting between Haftar and Serraj. The foreign ministry has said that Alfano's visit was aimed at renewing Italy's support for peace efforts to ensure Libya's stability.

Sarraj has struggled to impose the authority of his fragile government, which continues to meet resistance at home despite its backing by many political and military leaders.

Two-day count of 6,000

Some 6,000 migrants hoping to head to Europe were rescued in the Mediterranean on Friday and Saturday in dozens of frantic operations coordinated by the Italian coastguard.

About 3,000 were picked up on Saturday by the navy, coastguard, EU border agency Frontex and several NGOs, the coastguard said in a statement. 

Some of them have already been taken to shore in Italy while others, including 730 onboard a ship operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), were on their way.

The Libyan coastguard told AFP it had picked up about 170 migrants off Tripoli on Saturday, but had failed to rescue others "due to a lack of means".

The rescues came a day after around 3,000 others were found floating in rubber boats and on makeshift rafts after having left Libya, heading towards Italy. 

The International Organization for Migration meanwhile said fishermen had rescued 371 migrants Friday off the coast of the Libyan town of Zuwara.