Wed, May 18, 2016 - Page 6 News List

US backs arming Libyan government

‘DELICATE BALANCE’:The aim is to give the internationally recognized administration more muscle fighting the Islamic State and to end its rivalry with a group to the east

AP, VIENNA

In a move fraught with risk, the US and other world powers said on Monday they would supply Libya’s internationally recognized government with weapons to counter the Islamic State group and other militants gaining footholds in the chaos-wracked nation’s lawless regions.

Aiming at once to shore up the fragile government, and prevent Islamic State fighters and rival militias from further gains, the US, the four other permanent UN Security Council members and more than 15 other nations said they would approve exemptions to a UN arms embargo to allow military sales and aid to Libya’s Government of National Accord.

In a joint communique, the nations said that while the broader embargo would remain in place, they are “ready to respond to the Libyan government’s requests for training and equipping” government forces.

“We will fully support these efforts, while continuing to reinforce the UN arms embargo,” the communique said.

With support from all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the plan is unlikely to face significant opposition from any quarter.

The communique was issued at the end of talks that gathered US Secretary of State John Kerry and top officials from more than 20 other nations to discuss ways to strengthen Libya’s fledgling government. The aim is to give the internationally recognized administration more muscle fighting the Islamic State group and to end its rivalry with a group to the east claiming legitimacy.

The step would boost the government’s efforts to consolidate power and regain control over Libyan state institutions such as the central bank and the national oil company, but it also comes with risks, not least of which is that the arms might be captured or otherwise taken by the Islamic State or other groups.

Kerry called the plan “a delicate balance, but we are all of us here today supportive of the fact that if you have a legitimate government and that legitimate government is fighting terrorism, that legitimate government should not be victimized by [the embargo].”

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said his government would soon submit a weapons wish list to the UN Security Council for approval.

“We have a major challenge ahead of us,” in fighting extremists, he said. “We urge the international community to assist us.”

Before the meeting, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier outlined the high stakes at hand.

“The key question is whether Libya remains a place where terrorism, criminal human smuggling and instability continue to expand, or if we are able, together with the government of national unity, to recover stability,” he told reporters.

The challenges are daunting.

Libya descended into chaos after the toppling and death of Muammar Qaddafi five years ago and soon turned into a battleground of rival militias battling for power. The power vacuum has allowed the Islamic State group to expand its presence, giving it a potential base in a nation separated from Europe only by a relatively small stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.

Also worrying for Europe is the potential threat of a mass influx of refugees and migrants amassing in Libya, now that the earlier route from Turkey into Greece has been essentially shut down.

British Foreign Secretary David Hammond said his government had received a request from the Libyan government to bolster its coast guard — a project “which will address Libyan concerns about smuggling and insecurity on their border, but will also address European concerns about illegal migration.”

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