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Security Council adopts Sophia Operation

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The UN Security Council authorized the EU naval force to intercept ships suspected of arms smuggling to Libya, seize and dispose of the weapons and divert vessels and their crews to a nearby port, in an attempt to help Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) as it battles the Islamic State group (IS).

The European Union proposed a draft resolution to expand the naval operations (Sophia), in the Mediterranean, which was authorized last October to intercept and detain people smuggling boats.

The Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution, Tuesday, to expand the mission of Operation Sophia. The Council conveyed its concern about the growing threats of the Islamic State-linked groups inside Libya.

The EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, welcomed the vote that the Operation Sophia would “play a major role” in enforcing the arms embargo.

The resolution grants a 12-month mandate to the EU vessels to “inspect, without undue delay, on the high seas off the coast of Libya, vessels bound to, or from Libya which they have reasonable grounds to believe are carrying arms or related material to or from Libya.”

However, it said, the naval force must “make good-faith efforts” and seek consent from the ship’s flag state before carrying out any inspection.

“The existing arms embargo has not entirely stopped the flow of weapons, and that action was needed to prevent shipments from reaching the IS fighters,” said the British Ambassador, Matthew Rycroft.

The EU foreign ministers are now expected to expand formally the Operation Sophia mission to combat arms smuggling at their meeting in Luxembourg next Monday.

The French Ambassador, Francois Delattre, regarded the measure a potential “game-changer by cutting off the flow of weapons that feeds the instability in Libya”. But Russia warned the measure could deepen divisions in Libya.

The Russian Deputy Ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, mentioned that the forces loyal to the retired General Khalifa Haftar are forcefully pushing back against the IS, “it is inadmissible to ignore this,” he said.

From his side, the Egyptian permanent representative to the UN, Amr Aby Atta stressed, Tuesday, that his country fully supports the Presidential Council (PC) that headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj and its efforts to restore peace. Pointing that arms embargo and preventing it from reaching the wrong hands is a matter of great value to eliminate sources of terrorism.

He added, to the Security Council, that “it is essential to address illegal migration in Libya, and the flowing of terrorists,” stressing Egypt’s readiness to work with international partners to address all challenges.

Such vote came at the time when Western powers are considering and exemption to the arms ban for purchases of military equipment to confront the IS and rival militias.

But the exemption is conditional on guarantees from the unity government that it will properly store and keep track of the new weapons to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

It is thought that there are at least 20 million pieces of armaments of all types inside Libya, according to the United Nations estimates.