Forces loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli claim to be at the gates of Sirte, and as many as 6,000 people have fled the city in anticipation of a battle to oust Isis from the town. Britain has circulated a draft UN resolution that would authorise the EU naval force in the Mediterranean to intercept ships suspected of smuggling arms in waters off Libya, in what would be a new attempt to tighten the noose around Islamic State in its stronghold of Sirte.
The resolution to enforce the existing arms embargo on Libya is likely to be voted upon next week if Russian concerns can be overcome. The enforcement is partly necessary because the UN wants to send selected arms to the government of national accord (GNA). However, a partial lifting of the arms embargo increases the threat of arms reaching either Isis or militias that do not recognise the authority of the GNA.
British sources say they also fear that the chain of military command at the GNA is not yet clear enough and that some of the arms might fall into the wrong hands in a country already awash with weaponry.
Martin Kobler, the UN special envoy for Libya, told the UN security council in New York that there were 20m pieces of weaponry in Libya. He said weapons had to be prevented from reaching the country illegally by land or sea.
Updating the UN on his efforts to forge political unity in Libya, Kobler said there was a danger of rival anti-Isis forces turning on one another. “Libyans must not fight each other, but unite against the common enemy,” he said. He called for a joint command centre under the leadership of the GNA to dispel the threat.
Two groups formerly loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army in the East, have defected to support the GNA, in an important sign that some of the rivalries can be eased. The special anti-terrorist force and a military intelligence brigade announced on Saturday at a joint news conference with the GNA defence minister, Al-Mahdi al-Bargathi, that they had decided to throw their lot in with the GNA.
Meanwhile, Libya’s prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, said his GNA was working with brigades from the western city of Misrata and eastern Ajdabiya that were advancing on Isis.
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Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, said she was confident Russian doubts about the arms embargo could be overcome. She said any action would be “in strong coordination with” Sarraj.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Moscow was not opposed in principle to the draft resolution, but care was needed. “Everything must be done in a way which does not create any suspicions among any of the Libyan parties,” he said.
Kobler said there was a sense of growing impatience and concern in Libya about the lack of a government, and he said the political process had stalled because some parties had failed to uphold their commitments.
He said it was high time for the Libyan parliament to be convened by its speaker so that it could vote without intimidation to endorse the GNA, in line with plans set out nearly six months ago. Two previous attempts failed due to the lack of quorum caused by a significant minority – mainly from the east – refusing to attend.