French mly sued over Libyan deaths

h1_11 30/03/2012

BRUSSELS: A European rights watchdog rapped Nato on Thursday for failing to help a distressed migrant boat during the Libyan war as NGOs said they would sue the French military over the incident in which 63 people died.

The small boat left Tripoli in late March 2011 carrying 72 Africans, including 50 men, 20 women and two babies, but only nine survived after two weeks adrift in the Mediterranean, the Council of Europe said.

“Many opportunities for saving the lives of the persons on board the boat were lost,” a council committee said in a report denouncing a “catalogue of failures” by Libyan, European and Nato authorities. Several Western warships were in the Mediterranean at the time enforcing a Nato-led arms embargo, but no one including fishing vessels in the area responded to distress calls, the report said.

“Nato failed to react to the distress calls, even though there were military vessels under its control in the boat’s vicinity when the distress call was sent,” it added. It said a Spanish frigate, the Mendez Nunez, was 11 miles away from the drifting boat but Spain disputes this distance.

A helicopter dropped biscuits and water to the migrants at one point but never returned, and a large military ship “came into close contact with the boat, but ignored obvious distress signals,” the council report said.

Stephane Maugendre, a lawyer and president of the French Immigrant Worker Support and Information Group (GISTI), announced at a press conference in Brussels that it would file a lawsuit in Paris next month in the name of survivors. “We will file a complaint against the French armed forces for failure to assist people in danger,” Maugendre said.

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