U.N. concerned by spread of arms in Libya, arms embargo unchanged

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council expressed concern on Friday at the proliferation of arms and ammunition in Libya as it left an arms embargo on the North African state unchanged and urged the recognized government to improve monitoring of its weapons.

Libya and neighboring Egypt asked the 15-member council last month to lift restrictions on government weapons imports so it could better fight extremist groups after Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians.

Libya has descended into factional fighting, leaving the country almost lawless nearly four years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Two competing governments backed by militia brigades are scrambling for control of the oil-producing country and the chaos has created havens for Islamist militants.

Libya’s internationally recognized government, led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, has operated out of the east since a rival armed faction called Libya Dawn took over Tripoli in fighting last year and set up its own administration.

The Libyan government is already allowed to import weapons and related materiel with the approval of a Security Council committee overseeing the embargo imposed in 2011 when Gaddafi forces cracked down on pro-democracy protesters.

The Security Council has long urged Libya to improve monitoring of its weapons over concerns that some government arms were being diverted to militant groups. It renewed that appeal on Friday in a unanimously adopted resolution that renewed the U.N. political mission in Libya for another year.

It also said it was “gravely concerned at the growing trend of terrorist groups in Libya to proclaim allegiance to Islamic State.”

The council also unanimously adopted a second resolution, proposed by Egypt last month, focusing on counter terrorism efforts in Libya. It calls upon the U.N. committee overseeing the arms embargo to “consider expeditiously” Libyan requests for weapons shipments.

Earlier this month, eight Security Council members delayed approval of a request by Libya to import weapons, tanks, jets and helicopters to take on Islamic State.

The second resolution “emphasizes the importance of providing support and assistance to the government of Libya, including by providing it with the necessary security and capacity building assistance.”

It also encourages the sanctions committee to consider blacklisting more individuals or entities for supporting Islamic State and al Qaeda-linked groups.

Both of the resolutions backed efforts by U.N. special envoy Bernardino Leon to broker a peace between the rival governments.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Gregorio