Libya arrests 400 illegal immigrants

Tripoli - Libya on Monday said its forces had prevented more than 400 Africans from illegally emigrating to Italy when they intercepted a boat off the coast of the North African country.

"Despite a lack of means, we were able to prevent illegal immigration of people who were heading for Italy," interim interior minister Fawzi Abdelali told reporters.

Abdelali said the problem of illegal immigration would be treated differently by the country's new rulers than the way it was tackled by the previous regime of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

"Illegal immigration was a means of pressure used by the former regime to blackmail Europe. Now this issue will be treated differently," he said, adding that the new Libya will be focused in tackling the issue.

"We expect support from the world" in preventing such trafficking, he added.

In the port of Tripoli some 420 immigrants were being guarded by former rebels who toppled Gaddafi as well as being monitored by interior ministry officials, an AFP reporter at the scene reported.

Among them were Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Ivorians and Nigerians.

According to General Joma al-Meshri, a group of former rebels and officers intercepted the boat early on Monday 16km off the coast of Tripoli.

A commander of the ex-rebels, Khaled al-Bassir, said they had received information about the vessel's departure, and that three patrol boats had set off to intercept it.

Many of the immigrants said they had become victims of a fraud planned by Libyans to swindle them after they had each paid people smugglers between $1 000 and $1 500.

For several years, Libya has been a transit country for hundreds of thousands of African immigrants trying to reach Europe in search of a better life.

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