World powers ready to arm Libya's UN-backed government

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters, AFP
World powers ready to arm Libya's UN-backed government
  • Foreign ministers meet in Vienna
  • US reportedly considering relaxing UN arms embargo
  • Conflict between parallel governments high on the agenda

What is happening?

The US and other world powers say they are ready to arm Libya’s national unity government to help in its fight against ISIL militants.

We will support the Libyan Presidency Council as it seeks exemption from the UN arms embargo

More than a dozen foreign ministers from the US, Middle East and Russia have met in Vienna.

They have held talks with Fayez al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the group will back Libya if it seeks an exemption from the UN arms embargo.

“The international community will support the (Libyan) Presidency Council as it seeks exemption from the UN arms embargo to acquire those weapons and bullets needed to fight Da’esh (ISIL) and other terrorist groups,” Mr Kerry told reporters.

Prime Minister of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord, Fayyaz al-Sarraj, says there is no question of putting boots on the ground.

“ We call on the international community to help us, we are not talking about an international intervention but about international support to train and
to fit-out our forces and our young people”.

The timing is crucial

The meeting, overseen by Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni and US Secretary of State John Kerry, comes at a crucial time.

ISIL fighters have recently extended their influence to the west of the Libyan town of Sirte, which they have controlled since June 2015.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord is struggling to assert its authority, more than a month- and-a-half after taking office in Tripoli.

Last week, ISIL fighters took control of the region of Abou Grein, 100 km west of Sirte, from government forces.

It is the first time the group has managed to take control of the town.

What will they talk about in Vienna?

  • International support for the new government
  • Security questions

The aim is to help the new government tackle the threat from ISIL.

The group has an estimated 3-5,000 fighters in Libya.

The new government

  • Sworn-in at the end of March
  • Run by Fayez al-Sarraj
  • Successful in Tripoli and west of the country
  • Seeks to assert influence in the east

On Friday, the US imposed sanctions on the speaker and president of Libya’s House of Representatives for what the Obama administration says was their attempts to obstruct and delay political transition in the country.

What about the parallel government?

The war against extremists is at the centre of the conflict between the government of national accord and the parallel authority based in the east of the country and led by Khalifa Haftar.

The rival governments are each preparing an offensive to chase ISIL from Sirte.

The parallel authority refuses to concede power before a confidence vote is held in Parliament. This has been delayed on several occasions.

The migrant issue

The international community has pinned its hopes on the Government of National Accord to contain the flow of migrants across the central Mediterranean.

“Without the support of a stable government in Libya, the EU operation will not be able to gather the information needed to tackle people traffickers,” said a recent report about tackling the migration problem by the UK parliament.

What they are saying

“The Government of National Accord has voiced its intention to submit appropriate arms embargo exemption requests to the UN-Libya sanctions committee to procure necessary lethal arms and material to counter UN-designated terrorist groups and to combat Daech throughout the country,” – joint communique issued after ministerial meeting in Vienna.

“We have a lot of work to do” – US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The race to liberate Sirte is a mistake and we cannot accept this division,” – President of the Defence Commission of the Italian Senate, Nicola Latorre.