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Migrants arrive at a naval base after they were rescued by Libyan coastguard in Tripoli, Libya December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

(reuters_tickers)

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's coastal guard has rescued more than 250 illegal migrants trying to leave the North African country in small boats bound for Italy, officials said on Saturday.

Libya's western shores are the main departure point for migrants mainly from sub-Saharan countries fleeing poverty and conflict trying to reach Europe.

Arrivals to Italy have fallen by two-thirds since July from the same period last year after officials working for the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, Italy's partner, managed to cut back human smuggling in the city of Sabratha west of the capital.

That has pushed the trade further east, with the coast guard intercepting several boats off the coast near Qaraboulli and Zliten, two towns located east of Tripoli.

"The naval forces' Ibn Ouf vessel rescued (on Friday) illegal migrants including women, children and men ... they are from different sub-Saharan and Arab countries," Coast Guard Captain Abdulhadi Fakhal told Reuters.

"They were rescued off Qaraboulli and Zliten towns ... and they are about 250 to 270 persons," Fakhal said.

Libya has plunged into chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising. A U.N.-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli has been trying to gain control of territory.

(Writing by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Mark Potter)

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Reuters