UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The European Union's foreign policy chief urged the U.N. Security Council on Monday to adopt a resolution allowing the EU maritime force, charged with seizing migrant-smuggling vessels off Libya's coast, to help enforce an arms embargo on the North African nation.
Federica Mogherini told the council that EU ships have saved thousands of lives and seized over 100 vessels and many traffickers.
Now, she said, the ships in Operation Sophia should also help stop arms shipments on the high seas headed to Libya.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said a British-drafted resolution authorizing the boarding of vessels on the high seas off Libya suspected of smuggling arms has been circulated to all 15 council members and he hopes for a vote soon.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow is not opposed to the idea but had "some concerns," especially about the response of the rival factions in Libya, where a fledgling U.N.-backed government still faces opposition.
Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two parliaments and governments with each backed by a loose set of militias and tribes. The eastern government and parliament were formed after the last parliament elections, but the Tripoli parliament refused to hand over power to them.
Following a U.N. brokered political deal between factions from each camp at the end of last year, a new unity government has tried to consolidate its grip in the capital, Tripoli, but has faced resistance from various political players and armed groups.
Islamic State extremists have exploited the turmoil, seizing territory and triggering fears in Europe at the prospects of an expanding extremist-run bastion on its doorstep, just across the Mediterranean Sea.
Churkin said "the highest priority" in Libya should be to make sure Parliament approves the new national unity government, which Russia expects to happen "soon."
The U.N. envoy for Libya, Martin Kobler, urged the speaker of the House of Representatives to convene a parliamentary session "free of intimidation and threat' for a vote on the unity government, but sidestepped a question on whether this would happen soon.
He expressed concern at the military situation in the country, saying uncoordinated military action has raised the specter of direct clashes between different forces fighting Islamic State extremists in areas west of their stronghold in Sirte.
"Libya is a country awash with weapons — 20 million pieces of weaponry in a land of six million inhabitants," Kobler said.
"These weapons do not fall from the sky, but come in increasingly through illegal shipments by sea and by land," he said. "These arms fuel the conflict. These shipments must end if there is to be any serious hope of bringing peace to Libya."