UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Libya made an urgent appeal Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council to either lift an arms embargo completely or allow exemptions so that its army can fight the rising threat of the Islamic State and other militant groups. Diplomats said Libya has made a sizeable request in the past few days for dozens of fighter jets, tanks, helicopters and grenade launchers.
The ambassador's appeal came a day before talks between the country's rival factions resume in Morocco. In addition, the U.N. envoy for the crisis told the council that dialogue will continue next week with meetings in Algeria and Brussels.
The oil-rich north African country is deeply divided between two rival governments, one that is Western-backed and another that is backed by Islamist groups who deny the involvement of militants allied with the Islamic State group. Some council members say Libya should have a national unity government before the chaotic country receives more weapons. A new U.N. report says the country's ability to control the flow of arms is "almost nonexistent."
In a spirited speech that surprised council members and U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon, Libya's U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi told the council that his people feel the international community's silence has allowed the threat of "terrorist" groups to spread. He also threatened that Libya would suspend relations with some states, including a council member, for "creating diplomatic relations" with the militias fighting the Western-backed government.
Dabbashi, who represents that government, would not say what his country has requested in terms of arms, but he told reporters, "If you don't have enough fighter jets and surveillance airplanes, etc., you cannot deal with this problem."
Libya currently can apply for weapons imports under an exemption in the arms embargo for the Libyan government, but the U.N. committee that considers such requests has been cautious about giving approval.
In an effort to win trust, Dabbashi said the Libyan army now must have the army chief of staff sign off on every request for weapons, and Libya's U.N. mission must certify each one. He also said Libya is ready to accept an international observer to make sure that weapons don't fall into the wrong hands.
Meanwhile, the U.N.-led talks between the rival governments have made little progress so far, and Leon warned the council that "terrorist groups such as Islamic State will stop at nothing in their bid to play on existing political divisions."
But the envoy expressed some hope for the talks that pick up again Thursday in Morocco, which will focus on a path toward a national unity government and security arrangements to pave the way for a cease-fire. That is expected to include the removal of all armed groups from Libya's cities.
Next week, the U.N. mission to Libya will hold talks in Algeria with Libyan leaders and activists, with separate talks in Brussels for a range of municipal leaders.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin later told reporters that fighting extremist groups in Libya shouldn't have to wait until a national unity government is found. But even he hesitated at the idea of lifting the arms embargo, saying mechanisms are needed to make sure that weapons aren't leaked.