UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is strongly urging all countries to implement an arms embargo against Libya, saying preventing the proliferation of weapons is important to de-escalate the current fighting and restore stability in the country.
The U.N. chief expressed deep concern in a report to the Security Council circulated Friday that current military operations in Libya are reportedly "being reinforced by the transfer of arms into the country, including by sea."
Guterres was reporting specifically on implementation of a resolution last June authorizing the European Union's maritime force to enforce the arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.
He noted that EU countries in March extended the mandate of the naval mission, but took the unusual step of restricting its operation by refusing to allow it to deploy any ships. Instead, the EU said it will deploy more planes and personnel.
Italy commands the mission known as Operation Sophia, but the populist government in Rome refuses to allow its ships or aid groups' migrant rescue vessels to disembark in Italian ports. The EU move on suspending the naval mission was widely viewed as being aimed at easing tensions with Italy's anti-migrant government.
Guterres said Operation Sophia reported that between March 23, 2018 and March 22, 2019 it conducted 1,083 "hailings," 84 friendly approaches and three vessel inspections. It said no weapons were seized.
But the secretary-general said there are still attempts to smuggle arms to Libya, citing the reported seizure of arms and related military material by Libyan port and customs authorities.
Given the current suspension of Operation Sophia, Guterres said, "it is as relevant as ever for member states, in order to complement the efforts of the military operation, to inspect cargo in their territorial waters or at their seaports that is heading to and coming from Libya."
More broadly, the secretary-general cited reports of violations of the arms embargo by air, land and sea during the recent military escalation and fighting in Libya — sparked by an offensive to take control of the capital Tripoli launched April 4 by the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter.
Civil war in Libya in 2011 toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and the chaos that followed resulted in a divided country, with a weak U.N.-supported administration in Tripoli overseeing the country's west and a government in the east aligned with Hifter. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.
Guterres said he is "deeply concerned that an important opportunity for an inclusive dialogue and the search for a political solution for Libya may be undermined" by the current military escalation.
He noted that that since the Security Council imposed the arms embargo on the import and export of weapons to and from Libya in 2011 its implementation "continues to encounter challenges."
"I strongly urge member states to fully implement the embargo measures, which are of immediate importance to the protection of civilians and the restoration of security and stability in Libya and the region," Guterres said.