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EU migrant mission fix needed 'within weeks': Mogherini

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Brussels (AFP)

The EU's migrant mission in the Mediterranean will collapse if governments do not urgently agree on a temporary fix, the bloc's diplomatic chief warned Tuesday.

European governments have been unable to agree how to prolong Operation Sophia, set up at the height of the European migrant crisis to tackle people smuggling, when it runs out in December.

Italy's populist government wants to change the mission so that disembarkation ports, where asylum requests are processed, are shared among several member states.

A fresh bid to solve the problem at a meeting of EU defence ministers on Tuesday ended without agreement and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini warned that time was running out.

"I clearly said to the ministers that either they find an interim solution on the issue of disembarkation within the next couple of weeks or we will need to dismantle the operation and the operation will come to an end," she said.

"This would mean no presence at sea from the European Union, no training of the Libyan coast guard, no dismantling of the networks of smugglers, no arrest from the European Union side of the smugglers, no authorisation of vessels, no arms embargo implementation and so on and so forth."

Rome's right-wing, nationalist government says it should not have to carry the burden of dealing with migrants rescued at sea on its own and it is time other EU states take in more.

Efforts to adjust Operation Sophia have beached on the broader question of how to reform the EU's so-called Dublin asylum rules.

But Mogherini said it should be possible to find an interim solution to the disembarkation problem that would not create a precedent for renegotiation of the Dublin rules.

On Tuesday Rome ordered the seizure of the Aquarius -- one of the most high profile vessels rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean -- for allegedly dumping toxic waste.

While irregular migrant arrivals across the Mediterranean are well down on the 2015 peak of the crisis, immigration remains a hot-button issue in many European countries.

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