Operation Sophia extended to allow interception of illegal arms shipments to and from Libya

The United Nations Security Council voted to allow naval forces of EU countries to intercept ships in Libyan waters suspected of carrying weapons to or from the country. According to Bloomberg, the new authorization, approved Tuesday, is part of the war against the Islamic State terrorist group and other militias fighting the UN-brokered Government of National Accord. The new motion expands the power of the existing Operation Sophia to allow the navies involved to intercept boats in Libyan waters. Enforcing the arms embargo may bolster the GNA government of Faiez Sarraj, which is struggling to control much beyond the borders of the naval base where it is headquartered. Militia in the west as well as the forces of Khalifa Haftar in the area controlled by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) appear to be able to receive arms without much trouble. A large shipment of trucks and ammunition for Haftar landed at Tobruk in April.

The GNA appears to have little control over militia nominally loyal to it. Recently 12 former Gadaffi soldier released from jail were murdered. The power in Tripoli is distributed according to the wishes of various militia. Ironically, the measure is being implemented just as the Islamic State is hardly a factor, being surrounded in central Sirte with no access to the port. Nevertheless Francoise Delattre, French ambassador to the UN said that the motion could be a game changer for Libya giving Operation Sophia the means to enforce the arms embargo on Libya. It grants a 12-month mandate to inspect without undue delay ships off the coast of Libya which there are reasonable grounds to believe are carrying arms or related material to or from Libya. The aim of Operation Sophia iis to attempt to identify, capture, and dispose of assets used by migrant smugglers as well as arrest smugglers.

The resolution to expand the Sophia operation was introduced by the UK and France. Amnesty International expressed concern about Operation Sophia, arguing that closer cooperation with the Libyan government risked "fuelling the rampant ill-treatmet and indefinite detention in horrifying conditions" that was experienced by thousands of refugees and migrants. Magdalena Mughrabi, of Amnesty said: “Europe shouldn’t even think about migration cooperation with Libya if it results, directly or indirectly, in such shocking human rights violations.The EU has repeatedly shown it is willing to stop refugees and migrants from coming to the continent at almost any cost.”

In contrast EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini told the UN that the move had to go ahead to make the "Mediterranean a safer place, starting for our Libyan friends". Earlier the Russian Ambassador to the UN had expressed a concern that the measure might create suspicion against some party. The Russia concerns led to an addition to the resolution that the EU ships must "make good-faith efforts" to first "seek consent from the ship's flag state before carrying out any inspection." The EU would be authorized to "seize and dispose" of the weapons and divert the vessels and their crew to a nearby port. The new move coincides with a request that the Serraj GNA government be granted exemptions to the embargo but the exemption request appears to be progressing slowly as there are concerns that weapons might fall into the "wrong hands". The UN wants guarantees this will not happen. The UN also wants Tripoli to provide a clear command structure for the numerous militia that claim to be fighting for the GNA.


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