libya migrants .jpg
Photograph: EPA/STR

The UN Security Council on Tuesday authorized the European Union's naval force in the Mediterranean to cut the illicit flow of arms into Libya by intercepting suspicious vessels in international waters off the country's coast.

The resolution, which expands an existing mandate allowing the EU's Operation Sophia to intercept migrant vessels and arrest suspected smugglers on high seas around Libya, aims to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya meant to stop violence, especially by Islamic State extremists.

For an initial period of 12 months, the resolution authorizes countries to intercept suspicious vessels.

Matthew Rycroft, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, called the resolution an important step to secure the coast of Libya, limit the Islamic State group's freedom of movement and help tackle the migration crisis.

Francois Delattre, French ambassador to the UN, called the extended mandate a "potential game-changer" because it addresses the dire security challenges that are fuelled by the flow of weapons into Libya.

According to the UN, there are 20 million pieces of weaponry in Libya, which has a population of 6 million people.

The adoption of the resolution hung in the balance until the last moment after Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, expressed concerns over the text.

After the vote, a Russian representative said his country was "disappointed" by unilateral actions by certain countries to solve the Libyan crisis and questioned the motives behind the resolution.

"It's possible that somebody is seeking a carte blanche so as to manage the weapons flow to Libya as they see fit - today, that means helping some Libyans against others," said Vladimir Safronkov, a Russian diplomat.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini welcomed the adoption, which she said "reflects the international community's unanimous support to EU work to make the Mediterranean a safer place for everyone, principally for Libyans."

Meanwhile, clashes continued between forces loyal to Libya's national unity government and Islamic State militants throughout Sirte, as the government worked to retake the city from Islamic State extremists, an official told dpa on Tuesday.

"The infighting erupted throughout Monday and at night in areas including Zaafran neighbourhood and the surroundings of Ouaghdugho conference hall in the city," said Ahmed Ruiati, a media official with the government forces.

Troops loyal to the unity government based in the capital Tripoli have been closing in from all sides in recent weeks on Sirte, centrally located on the North African country's Mediterranean coast.

"The forces focused today on shooting via cannons from a relatively far distance," Ruiati said.

"[Islamic State fighters] sometimes target our forces from far away. We have already lost three soldiers today in addition to the injury of almost 20 others."

According to Ruiati, the Libyan forces have become very careful about advancing inside the town as they fear snipers, landmines and suicide attacks.

Libya has been divided since 2014 between rival governments based in Tripoli in the west and Tobruk in the east. Islamic State has taken advantage of the chaos to seize territory along the sparsely populated central coast between the zones of influence of the two governments. Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moamer Gaddafi, with numerous revolutionary militias formed along regional and ideological lines vying for power.

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