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Libya’s coast guard rescues 235 migrants off western coast

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s coast guard rescued 235 migrants in three separate operations on Sunday night off its western coast, a naval forces spokesman said.

Western Libya is the main departure point for Europe-bound migrants fleeing poverty and conflict, although many drown in the attempt. 

The coast guard rescued 190 migrants on board two inflatable boats off the port of Khoms, Naval forces spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters. A group of 45 others were picked up on board a wooden boat about 50 miles (80 kms) off Zuwarah.

They included 20 women and two children, the source said.

The number of crossings has sharply dropped since July 2017 when an armed group expelled human traffickers from a smuggling hub after an Italy-backed deal.

Aquarius 2, the one charity rescue vessel still operating in the central Mediterranean, has had its registration revoked by the Panama Maritime Authority in a move that means there will be no charity rescue ships off the Libyan coast in the near future unless the vessel can find a new flag to sail under.

Tripoli and western Libya are run by a U.N.-backed government mainly supported by armed groups, while eastern Libya is controlled by a rival administration. The country has been riven by conflict since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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