Rescued migrants stand as they disembark off the Italian Guardia di Finanza vessel Denaro at the Sicilian harbour of Catania on April 23, 2015. Calls have mounted for a military response to the Mediterranean migrant crisis, but experts say such plans are totally unworkable and mark an attempt to militarise what should be a purely humanitarian problem. European leaders will gather in Brussels to discuss new strategies in the wake of the latest disaster on April 19, in which hundreds of migrants drowned when their boat capsized on the way from Libya to Italy. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLIALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Detained migrants living a life of purgatory
02:19 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Head of Libyan army tells CNN Libyan authorities have not been consulted

Gen. Khalifa Haftar says Libya will "look after" its interests

Solution to migration problem requires lifting of sanctions, general says

CNN  — 

The head of the Libyan Army has rejected the possibility of cooperating with any EU military intervention in his country intended to stem the flow of undocumented migrants trying to reach Europe.

In an exclusive interview Friday with CNN’s Becky Anderson, Libyan army head Gen. Khalifa Haftar said Libyan authorities had not been consulted and, in any event, military action would not solve the problem.

“We will certainly not cooperate, because we were not involved in resolving this issue,” Haftar said. “The decision was taken without consulting the legitimate Libyan side.”

Libyan Army general Khalifa Haftar speaks during a press conference on May 17, 2014.

The European Union is struggling to cope with an increasing number of people crowding into unseaworthy boats and trying to reach European shores. Many of the travelers are fleeing violence and poverty in Libya and elsewhere in the region.

The capsizing of one vessel last weekend left an estimated 900 people dead.

EU leaders are considering a plan that would involve military action against people smugglers at the source – before they load their boats with human cargo. Of necessity, such an operation would involve operations within the territory of North African countries.

Haftar: Crisis needs to be deal with “as a whole”

But Haftar expressed dismay at the prospect in his interview with CNN.

“Military action against Libyan territory is an unwise decision,” he said. “You need to deal with the Libyan crisis as a whole. We are a sovereign country that needs to be respected despite what we are going through right now.”

Haftar did not respond directly when he was asked whether Libyan authorities would confront any European forces within its territory.

“The European Union needs to stand with the Libyan people to solve the crisis instead of taking such decisions,” the general said. “The migrant crisis affects them. But why don’t they see that our problems are also very important? It’s important for them to support us either on the humanitarian front or on the security front.”

Pressed on the point, Haftar replied, “We do what’s in the interest of the Libyan people. The European Union is looking after its own interests so we will also look after ours.”

But he said Libya is open to other kinds of cooperation on the issue of migration.

“If they take the right approach, we will certainly cooperate,” he said, referring to EU authorities. “The appropriate approach will benefit Libya and its fight against terrorism. And I repeat, that means lifting sanctions against Libya – specifically those against the army.”