New pressures on the UN Security Council to lift its arms embargo on Libya

Pressures mounted on the United Nations Security Council yesterday to lift its international embargo on arms to the Libyan government. In an interview with journalist Valerio Robecco, Libyan UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said, “A time limit should be set for militias to leave the capital and a government of national united needs to be formed. Otherwise, military efforts should be deployed alongside political ones.” He added that the end of March would be an appropriate deadline.

Yesterday’s comment by the Libyan ambassador follows his impassioned speech at the UN Security Council Wednesday, in which he called for exemptions on the arms embargo which the government says has hobbled its ability to fight the growing threat of Islamist militancy — and also blamed inaction by the international community for allowing jihadist militancy to spread across much of his country. It also comes on the heels of new press reports, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, that the government of Egypt led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is pressuring the United Nations for mandated military intervention in Libya. Egypt, still reeling from the beheading of 21 Egyptian nationals by the Islamic State last month, faces domestic pressure to carry out further punitive measures on the organization — particularly where it appears to be concentrated, in the northern Libyan town of Sirte.

Earlier this week, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to extend the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which is mandated “to control unsecured arms and related material in Libya and counter their proliferation, and to build governance capacity.”

UN Secretary General spokesman Stéphane Dujarric de la Rivière declined to comment directly on calls to lift the embargo. “There are talks ongoing right now in Morocco facilitated by the official representative, which are continuing today,” he said. “Our efforts aim at creating an inclusive political solution for Libya on which a state can be reestablished that all Libyans can recognize and have faith in. The issue of lifting or not lifting the arms embargo will be left up to the security council.”

The United States, for its part, declined to weigh in publicly today on the potential military means to support the Libyan central government following the UN arms embargo. American media reported this morning that, for the first time, a US intelligence source has acknowledged that Abdel Hakim Belhaj, formerly armed by the United States as part of the NATO campaign to oust Qadhafi, has emerged as the leader of the Islamic State in Libya.

Meanwhile, in a different context with bearing on UN involvement in Libyan efforts to unify the country, Pumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, head of the “UN Women” organization, weighed in on the role women have begun to play in pressing for national dialogue and reconciliation. This week the UN organized a diverse group of Libyan women from across the country to demonstrate in support of efforts at forming a national unity government through talks now underway in Morocco.

“We have only a small presence there in Libya,” Ms. Ngcuka said, “but we can assist women to convene themselves across the divide in all areas of conflict so they can forge an alliance. In many cases it is not difficult for women to stand together, even in the midst of a conflict. We are under tremendous pressure in wanting to encourage women to raise their voices in support of national dialogue, because clearly the situation has been extremely difficult for women.”

This article is a translation of today’s report from the United Nations by Joseph Braude in the Arabic-language daily Asharq Alawsat. Follow Joseph on Twitter @josephbraude.

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