UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution allowing the European Union's maritime force off Libya's coast to seize illegal weapons that are helping to fuel violence and instability in the North African nation, including by Islamic State extremists.
The British-drafted resolution authorizes EU ships in Operation Sophia — now charged with seizing migrant-smuggling vessels — to also stop vessels on the high seas off Libya's coast suspected of smuggling arms in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
Council President Francois Delattre of France said before the vote that the resolution, if passed, had the potential to be a "game changer" for Libya.
"We would finally have the means to enforce the arms embargo in Libya," he said. "In doing so, we will be better equipped to fight against" the Islamic State group.
EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Luxembourg on Monday to give a green light to the new anti-arms smuggling dimension of Operation Sophia.
Libya slid into chaos following the 2011 toppling and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Since 2014, the oil-rich country has been torn between two parliaments and governments, with each backed by a loose set of militias and tribes. IS militants 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.
Meanwhile, a U.N.-brokered unity government is struggling to gain control of the country, which is awash with weapons.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said "the existing arms embargo has been only partially effective" and the abundance of weapons in Libya has undermined peace and security in the country and the region.
The Security Council reiterated its "grave concern" at the growing threat from "terrorist groups" in Libya proclaiming allegiance to IS and to al-Qaida. It expressed concern that foreigners heading to Libya to join these groups "can increase the intensity, duration and complexity of the conflict and pose a serious threat to their states of origin, transit and travel."
The resolution condemns the flow of arms to and from Libya, including to IS "and other terrorist groups" and expresses concern that the situation in Libya has been exacerbated by the illegal smuggling of weapons.
The council authorized ships from the EU and other regional and individual countries to inspect "vessels bound to or from Libya which they have reasonable grounds to believe are carrying arms or related materiel to or from Libya" for the next year.
But it stressed that the ship carrying out the interception must make "good-faith efforts to seek the consent" of the country where the vessel is registered prior to an inspection. This provision was added to address a key concern of Russia and other council members that inspections would take place without attempting to get the consent of the vessel's flag state.
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Vladimir Safronkov raised questions about the real motives of the resolution's sponsors and complained that the text didn't stress the goal of establishing united security forces in Libya. He said Moscow didn't use its veto power to block its adoption but will be carefully monitoring whether countries where vessels are registered are contacted for consent, and will also be scrutinizing any requests from the Libyan government for exemptions from the arms embargo.