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Latest update : 2009-03-31

Two boats bearing hundreds of Europe-bound migrants sank off the Libyan coast in separate incidents, killing at least 21 people, according to Libyan officials. Hundreds of people were still missing.

REUTERS - At least 21 migrants died and hundreds more were missing after two boats to Italy sank off Libya in separate incidents, Libyan officials said on Monday.


The bodies were found after a rickety boat carrying 253 people sank off the coast of the North African state.


At least 23 people were rescued by Libyan coastguards when a second boat packed with migrants went down, but another 342 people on board were still missing, the officials told Reuters.


"We have information that two more boats were drifting off Libya's coast but we do not know the exact conditions and the number of the migrants on board," one of the officials said.


Asked when exactly the boats had sank, one official said: "The boat incidents took place in the past two days and rescue and search operation are continuing."


Libyan officials said it was not yet clear whether the two confirmed capsized boats and the two other spotted drifting off Libya all sailed from Libya.


Libya, a popular departure point for African migrants trying to reach Europe, signed a new accord with Italy in February to strengthen their efforts to stem the flow of illegal migration to southern Europe.


Hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants from various African countries live in Libya, taking odd jobs until they earn enough money to pay smugglers for a place on a boat that will try to take them to Italy, Libyan officials say.

Date created : 2009-03-31