UN extends search for illegal weapons on high seas off Libya

The UN Security Council on Friday approved a resolution extending the authorization for countries and regional organizations to inspect ships on the high seas off the coast of Libya suspected of violating the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations to this troubled North African country.

The vote on the French-sponsored resolution was 14-0, with Russia abstaining. The brief resolution extends the inspection authorization for one year.

The monitoring effort has been carried out since March 2020 by a European Union mission called Operation Irini, the Greek word for “peace”. The EU stated at the start that its main task would be to implement the UN arms embargo through the use of air, satellite and maritime means.

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Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said on Friday that when Irini started, Russia hoped the inspections would help reduce illegal arms trafficking and thus promote the long-awaited political settlement of Libya’s protracted conflict.

However, that never happened, he said, explaining that Operation Irini and its predecessor, Operation Sophia, had no successful cases of interception of contraband goods.

Nebenzia said Russia will monitor Irini’s activities over the next 12 months and that we will focus on how effective the operation is in curbing illegal arms flows and whether it complies with the law of the sea.

In its first two years of operation, Operation Irini said it investigated more than 6,200 ships, carried out nearly 250 visits (also known as friendly approaches) to merchant ships and 22 inspections. An illegal cargo ship was seized, preventing an illegal export of jet fuel for military aircraft to Libya, he added.

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Irini said she regularly monitors transport activities at 16 Libyan ports and oil facilities and 25 airports and airstrips.

Oil-rich Libya plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed. It then split between rival governments, one in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Hifter, and a UN-backed administration in the capital, Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.

In April 2019, Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive in an attempt to capture Tripoli.

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His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support for the UN-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.

An October 2020 ceasefire agreement led to an agreement on a transitional government in early February 2021 and elections were scheduled for December 24 aimed at unifying the country. But they were canceled and the country now has rival governments with two Libyans claiming to be prime minister.


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