UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia and China have blocked sanctions against two Libyans accused by the United States, Britain, France and Spain of undermining peace efforts in the deeply divided north African nation, U.N. diplomats said Friday.
The four Western countries had urged the U.N. Security Council to impose an asset freeze and travel ban on the Libyans to send a signal ahead of new peace talks on June 8 "that spoilers of the political process will not be tolerated."
Libya has been torn among powerful armed militias that have left the country with two rival parliaments and governments, while groups allied to the Islamic State extremist group grow in strength.
Libya's U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi wrote a letter to council members Thursday opposing sanctions on Othman Mlekta, a militia commander whose forces ssattacked parliament in May 2014, and Abdulrahman Swehli, a Misrata politician who supports a rival government in the capital Tripoli run by Islamist-allied Misrata militias.
Russia said in its official response obtained by The Associated Press that it was placing "a technical hold" on the request to carry out an inter-agency review in Moscow, which the mission said applies in all sanctions cases. It noted the Libyan letter and complained about the rushed request.
China also noted the Libyan letter in explaining its hold, adding that the political dialogue "is at a critical junction" and any actions by the sanctions committee should facilitate talks. "We should be very careful and take more time to consider this issue," China's U.N. Mission said.
The Misrata militias pushed the elected parliament out of Tripoli and it now meets in the eastern city of Tobruk. Government forces and allied militias are also battling Islamist radical groups who operate in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city.
The U.N. envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, who has been mediating talks, has urged the warring parties to agree on a unity government before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on June 17. The next round of negotiations are scheduled to begin on June 8 in Rabat, Morocco.
The United States said on behalf of the four countries in a note to council members that "a balanced and progressive approach to sanctioning spoilers — leaving more senior names for another time — could give a much needed push to those seeking to participate in Rabat."
According to the four countries, Mlekta, whose surname is also spelled Maliqta, is the commander of the Zintani Qaqa Brigade, a militia that attacked parliament using trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rockets on May 18, 2014, and throughout last summer carried out missile attacks against civilians and Libyan oil facilities.
Swehli reportedly pressed for an attack by Libya Dawn militias from Misrata against the oil port of Sidra in February to disrupt peace talks and sought to carry out sieges of government ministries by revolutionary militias, the note said.
"His actions have inflamed the continued conflict in Libya and undermined the successful completion of Libya's political transition facilitated by the U.N.-led dialogue process," it said.