June 10, 2019 5:19 pm

UN chief calls for arms embargo against Libya

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during an interview at United Nations headquarters on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is strongly urging all countries to implement a U.N. arms embargo against Libya, saying illegal weapons transfers by land, sea and air are fueling the current fighting in the oil-rich country.

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Guterres made the appeal in a report circulated Monday ahead of the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous approval of a resolution authorizing the inspection of vessels on the high seas headed to or from Libya for another year to enforce the arms embargo.

READ MORE: Fighting in Libya plunges country into chaos: Here’s what you need to know

The European Union’s Operation Sophia has been the only regional naval operation carrying out inspections. While the EU in March extended that operation’s mandate until Sept. 30, it suspended deployment of ships, saying that it instead would send more planes to monitor the area.

Italy commands Operation Sophia, but the populist government in Rome refuses to allow its ships or rescue vessels from aid groups that rescue migrants 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.

WATCH: Opposing forces in Libya clash near besieged capital

Guterres noted that U.N. experts monitoring the arms embargo, individual countries and regional organizations “have all reported on illicit transfers of arms and related materiel into and out of Libya.”

Implementing all measures related to the arms embargo is “of immediate importance in de-escalating the current situation” and is “of critical importance to the protection of civilians and the restoration of security and stability in Libya and the region,” the secretary-general said.

READ MORE: Tripoli airport attacked as Libyan National Army advances on official government

Civil war in Libya in 2011 toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The chaos that followed resulted in a divided country, with a U.N.-aligned, but weak administration in the capital of Tripoli overseeing the country’s west and a rival government in the east aligned with the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.

Hifter launched a military offensive in early April aimed at taking Tripoli despite commitments to move toward elections in the North African country. Clashes receded during last month’s start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan but later intensified.

WATCH: Fight for Tripoli threatens hope for peace in Libya

Britain’s political director, Stephen Hickey, whose country sponsored the U.N. resolution, expressed deep concern after the vote at “the now protracted and escalating conflict” which has led to a deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Libya.

“Any arms entering Libya will only escalate the conflict and lessen the prospects for a cease-fire,” Hickey told the Security Council. “Respecting the arms embargo is only one part of the solution in Libya which requires a full political dialogue and reconciliation.”

READ MORE: 2 found dead after migrant boat capsizes off Libyan coast: UN

Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, South Africa, Ivory Coast and Indonesia reiterated calls for a cease-fire and return to U.N.-led political talks.

South African Ambassador Jerry Matjila said that “it is two months since the crisis started in Libya without any respect for this council’s calls for a cease-fire by all parties to the conflict,” which he said is being “fueled by the constant supply of arms.”

Matjila and Ivory Coast Ambassador Kacou Adom expressed concern at Operation Sophia’s suspension of the naval operation. Adom called on countries to immediately make available equipment for the operation “in order to ensure it can be more effective.”

WATCH: At least 2 dead, 25 missing as migrant boat capsizes off Libya

Germany’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Juergen Schulz, backed U.N. calls for all countries to implement the arms embargo, saying in the current environment it is “more important than ever.”

“A seemingly unlimited arms supply fuels the erroneous belief in a military solution to the conflict and contributes to the unwillingness of actors on the ground to agree to a cease-fire” and resume the U.N.-led political process, Schulz said.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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