EU member states approved plans Friday to launch as early as next week the first phase of a military operation against people smugglers in the Mediterranean, sources said.
"Everything is now in place so that EU foreign ministers meeting Monday can approve the launch of the mission," one EU diplomat told AFP.
Other sources said member states have committed to supply enough ships and aircraft to allow the first, intelligence gathering phase of the operation to go ahead.
Stung into action by the loss of an estimated 800 migrants when their rickety boat sank off southern Italy, EU leaders agreed at an emergency summit in April to formulate a comprehensive plan to tackle the problem at source.
As well as boosting search and rescue efforts, they called on the EU foreign affairs head to draw up military options against the ruthless traffickers exploiting the waves of humanity seeking to get to Europe across the Mediterranean.
The first phase of intelligence gathering is meant to be followed by active intervention to board and disable smuggler vessels and arrest the traffickers.
A third phase would extend these actions into Libyan territorial waters and possibly inside the country itself.
While some EU states such as Britain and France favour moving promptly to Phase 2 and 3, others have serious reservations about direct involvement in a chaotic Libya where rival factions are fighting for control and the internationally-recognised government has fled Tripoli to take up residence in Benghazi.
To meet these reservations, the EU April summit agreed that Phase 2 and 3 would only go ahead if the bloc obtained Libyan consent -- a difficult prospect -- and a UN Security Council resolution.
"The mission that should be launched Monday will only operate in phase one, vessels, aircraft and drones in the southern Mediterranean to collect intelligence and to prepare the future phases," one source said.