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UK foreign minister visits Tripoli in show of support for Sarraj

'Fighting IS and fighting illegal migration part of same agenda,' says Philip Hammond following talks with Libya's UN-backed PM-designate
Philip Hammond (L) is greeted by Fayez al-Sarraj after arriving in Tripoli on Monday (GNA/Media/Facebook)

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Monday visited Tripoli in the latest show of European support for Libya's UN-backed unity government.

A statement from the UK foreign office in London said Hammond discussed the priorities of prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj's Government of National Accord on security, rebuilding the economy and restoring public services.

"Fighting Daesh [IS] and fighting illegal migration is part of the same agenda, and of course it must be for the Libyan people, the Libyan government, to decide how to recapture their country from the Daesh invaders, but the international community stands ready to support them, to provide training and technical assistance in any way," Hammond told a press conference.

Hammond's visit comes as Libya's Tobruk-based parliament, under pressure by the world community to endorse the GNA, indicated that a crucial vote of confidence due to be held on Monday would be postponed until next week.

It also coincides with moves by the GNA to further assert its authority in the war-torn North African nation by taking control on Monday of three ministries.

The GNA would begin running the ministries of social affairs, youth and sports, and housing and public works, regardless of the results of the vote of confidence, its deputy Ahmed Maiteeq said on Sunday.

The legislature's vote would be a key step for Sarraj's unity government which was formed under a UN-backed power-sharing deal in December to assert its authority.

Hammond is the latest European foreign minister to visit Libya after those of Italy, France and Germany.

EU ministers said on Monday that they would discuss "concrete" economic and security projects to back the new unity government.

A video conference is scheduled for 17:00 GMT on Monday, and will include EU foreign and defence ministers as well as prime minister-designate Sarraj.

Europe is increasingly alarmed by the expansion of the Islamic State group in Libya, where it has set up a bastion just 300 kilometres away from Italy across the Mediterranean.

Middle East Eye revealed last month that soldiers from Britain's elite Special Air Services (SAS) unit had been sent to Libya to tackle Islamic State's rise, with support from Jordanian special forces.

Oil-rich Libya, which has been mired in turmoil since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, is also looking to Europe for help in tackling terrorism, illegal migration and to train its army and police force.

"Mr Hammond is in Tripoli, he is meeting the Presidential Council (chaired by Sarraj) and will hold a press conference after the meetings," a media advisor for the GNA told AFP.

On Sunday, the United Nations said its staff had returned to Tripoli for the first time since they were forced to flee violence in mid-2014.

"The UN staff will be in Tripoli five days a week... I am not visiting Tripoli any more, I am working out of Tripoli," UN envoy Martin Kobler said at a joint news conference with Libya's Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-Chairman of the Presidential Council, Ahmed Maiteeq.

The UN envoy will be in Tobruk on Monday to encourage the House of Representatives parliament to back the latest unity government.