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Posted on Wednesday, 15 June 2016 16:20

EU to target Libyan arms smugglers in Mediterranean

By Charlie Hamilton

Photo©AP/SIPAEuropean Union naval forces deployed to combat people trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea are to begin intercepting boats suspected of smuggling arms into Libya in a key expansion of the mission.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved the change on Tuesday in its latest effort to aid the fragile country's unity government led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, which is struggling overcome islamist insurgents loyal to the Islamic State (IS).

The news came just ahead of a fresh counter-offensive on Wednesday by Libyan pro-government forces attempting to retake the IS stronghold of Sirte, around 450km east of the capital Tripoli.

Launched in April 2015 to combat the flow of migrants into the European Union, Operation Sophia had been tasked to seize vessels operated by people traffickers. It will now see military forces enforce the 2011 arms embargo and engage weapons traffickers in a bid to cut off the supply of illegal arms to rebels and islamist fighters.

UN monitors have repeatedly warned that the embargo was flouted having uncovered arms shipments arriving from Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said that halting the flow of arms "that feeds the instability" in Libya was a potential "game-changer". EU foreign ministers will meet on 20 June in Luxembourg to formally alter the operation's mandate, for an initial period of 12 months.



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