Libya’s foreign minister on Wednesday demanded that the U.N. Security Council lift an arms embargo so his country can fight the Islamic State group as it establishes a presence in north Africa and moves closer to Europe.
Foreign Minister Mohammed al Dairi spoke to an emergency session of the council amid regional alarm after the Islamic State group over the weekend posted a video of the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.
Al Dairi stressed that Libya is not asking for international intervention. But he said the international community has a “legal and moral responsibility to lend urgent support” and that the region, including the Mediterranean, is in danger.
“If we fail to have arms provided to us, this can only play into the hands of extremists,” he said. He told reporters he wanted to see the same attention paid the danger in Libya as has been paid to Iraq and Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition is battling the Islamic State group.
The foreign minister of neighbouring Egypt, Sameh Shoukry, called for a naval blockade on arms heading to areas of Libya outside the control of “legitimate authorities.” He did not rule out troops on the ground in Libya and said his country was seeking international support “by all means.”
Jordan was circulating a draft resolution on the issue to fellow council members later Wednesday. Aside from the call to lift the arms embargo, the draft resolution also calls on militias to withdraw from Tripoli to allow the return of the “legitimate government,” and it condemns any attempt to supply arms to non-state actors.
Egypt responded strongly to the beheadings, carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State group positions in Libya and saying it was in self-defence. Shoukry has said those airstrikes could continue.
Energy rich Libya is wracked by the worst fighting since long-ruling dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011. Two rival governments and parliaments – each backed by different militias – rule in the country’s eastern and western regions. After Islamic and tribal militias took over the capital, Tripoli, the elected parliament has been forced to function in the eastern city of Tobruk.
On Tuesday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had called on the United Nations to approve a new coalition for airstrikes in Libya, where the extremists have set up their first major affiliate outside of Iraq and Syria.
But U.N. diplomats said Egypt’s initial demands eased during talks later Tuesday.
It’s possible for Libya to 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 amid concern that weapons might be leaked to armed groups. The U.N. embargo has been in place since 2011.
Countries in the region have been stepping up to offer support since the video of the beheadings emerged. Both Italy and Algeria during the council meeting expressed their willingness to participate in international efforts.
Italy is especially worried. The country’s islands on the Mediterranean are only a few hundred miles from Libya, and Italian officials worry that militants will mingle with the waves of migrants being smuggled across from Libya and arrive in Italy by sea.
France, a lead player in the campaign to oust Gadhafi in 2011, has campaigned for months for some kind of international action in Libya.