EU calls for quick start to talks with Libya

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LUXEMBOURG, Oct 15 (Reuters) The European Union called today for a quick start to talks with Libya, once shunned by the West as a pariah state, on a cooperation agreement covering a wide area from trade to migration.

EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg that the EU executive planned to send an exploratory mission to the energy-rich North African state ''very soon''.

EU ties with Libya were stalled for years over charges that the Libyan government supported terrorism but the 27-nation bloc announced in July it would boost ties after Tripoli freed Bulgarian medics accused of infecting Libyan children with HIV.

''The EU and Libya should as soon as possible open discussions on an EU-Libya framework agreement which will include areas of mutual interest such as human rights, migration, among others,'' the ministers said in a statement.

''The objective of this policy of engagement will be to set EU-Libya relations into an appropriate, coherent long-term framework,'' the statement said.

The West rushed for closer ties with Muammar Gaddafi's government after it freed the medics, with France securing an arms deal and a memorandum of understanding for a nuclear energy deal, prompting criticism by human rights organisations.

On a visit to Brussels on Wednesday, the Bulgarian medics, who say they were innocent and were tortured in Libya, did not oppose EU links with Libya but urged the bloc to raise human rights concerns strongly in the talks.

Ferrero-Waldner said the talks would follow normal EU procedures. ''Human rights, as for every accord that we negotiate, will be on the table,'' she told a news briefing.

In the deal struck with Libya to secure the liberation of the medics, the EU held out the prospect of increased market access for Libya in fisheries and agricultural products, as well as cooperation on migration and tourism.

Europe imports the bulk of Libya's oil exports and European firms are keen to expand energy investment there.

EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini told Reuters on Wednesday cooperation on energy, promoting tourism and archaeological sites would be part of the talks.

He said the EU hoped Libya would participate in EU sea patrols aimed at stopping migrants from reaching the bloc and said it could help Libyans patrol their southern borders by providing equipment like providing cars and binoculars.

REUTERS CS BST0042

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