Middle East

UN backs naval crackdown on Libya arms smuggling

Forces loyal to Libya's unity government outside Sirte Image copyright AFP/getty
Image caption Forces loyal to Libya's new unity government have been battling jihadists

The United Nations Security Council has approved a crackdown on arms smuggling in the waters off the Libyan coast.

Under the resolution, European Union boats charged with seizing migrant-smuggling vessels in the Mediterranean Sea will also be asked to stop vessels suspected of smuggling arms.

The UN had become concerned that arms trafficked to the country were being used by so-called Islamic State (IS).

There are 20m weapons in the country of 6m people, the UN envoy to Libya said.

"These weapons do not fall from the sky, but come increasingly through illegal shipments by sea and by land.

"The arms fuel the conflict. These shipments must end if there is any serious hope of bringing peace to Libya," said Martin Kobler.

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The British-drafted resolution had the potential to be a "game changer" for Libya, France's UN ambassador Francois Delattre said.

Under it, EU ships will seize and dispose of boats being used by arms traffickers.

But vessels must first make efforts to obtain consent from the country where the suspected smuggling boat is registered.

The UN imposed an arms embargo on Libya in 2011, when former leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces cracked down on pro-democracy protesters.

However, Libya has become increasingly lawless since Gaddafi's overthrow and a power vacuum has allowed IS militants to gain control of parts of the country.

Last year sanctions monitors told the UN that Libya needed help from an international maritime force to halt the flow of weapons.

Western countries hope a new unity government formed earlier this year will be able to bring together Libya's different factions.

The new government is allowed to import arms with UN approval.