UN report calls for tightening of Libya arms embargo

A new U.N. report says Libya's ability to prevent the flow of weapons into and out of the chaotic country is "almost nonexistent," and it calls for the tightening of an arms embargo that the government says must be loosened so it can defend itself.

The report by a panel of experts also recommends the creation of a maritime monitoring force to help Libya's government prevent both the flow of weapons and the illegal export of the country's oil. The country has Africa's largest proven reserves of crude.

The international community is alarmed by the recent emergence of Islamic State group-affiliated fighters in the north African country, which is divided by two rival governments and multiple militias. But the United States and others worry that any weapons provided to the fragile Western-backed government, which is competing with an Islamist-backed rival, would quickly fall into the wrong hands.

Libya this month asked the U.N. Security Council to lift the arms embargo on the country, shortly after fighters linked to the Islamic State group beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in the group's deadliest attack so far outside Iraq and Syria.

Most permanent members of the council say they would rather see a unified government in Libya first, although U.N. efforts toward that goal have had little progress so far.

Libya already can apply for weapons imports under an exemption in the arms embargo for the Libyan government, but the U.N. committee that considers such requests has been cautious about giving approval. U.N. diplomats point to an incident in 2013 when weapons that were approved for the government ended up in militia hands instead.

Now the panel of experts says the arms embargo should be tightened so that committee approval would be needed not only for weapons and ammunition but for "non-lethal military equipment and the provision of security-related training."

The panel also recommends that the Security Council create a maritime monitoring force "to assist the government of Libya in securing its territorial waters" to prevent the flow of arms that would violate the embargo.

The monitoring force also would prevent the "illegal export of crude oil and its derivatives, and other natural resources." The new report says Libya's government has lost control over most of its oil installations.

The panel of experts monitors U.N. sanctions put in place since 2011, shortly before longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown. Militia groups have filled a growing vacuum since then as the state fell apart.

The new report, released over the weekend, says weapons from Libya have "significantly reinforced the military capacity of terrorist groups operating in different parts of the region, including in Algeria, Egypt, Mali and Tunisia in particular." But the flow of weapons from Libya to Syria seems to have faded in the past year or two, the report says.