March 4, 2015 / 6:34 PM / 3 years ago

Libya asks U.N. for arms, jets, tanks to battle Islamic State: letter

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Libya has sought permission from the United Nations to import 150 tanks, two dozen fighter jets, seven attack helicopters, tens of thousands of assault rifles and grenade launchers and millions of rounds of ammunition from Ukraine, Serbia and Czech Republic.

In the written request to the U.N. Security Council committee overseeing an arms embargo imposed upon the North African state, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, Libya said it needs the massive shipment of weapons and military equipment to take on Islamic State militants and other extremists and to control its borders.

If there are no objections by any of the 15-member committee, the request will be approved at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) on Monday.

Two rival governments and their respective armed forces are battling for control of Libya four years after the civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. The chaos has allowed radical Islamist militants to bolster their foothold in the oil-producing OPEC member.

U.N. special envoy Bernardino Leon on Wednesday warned the Security Council that Islamic State would “stop at nothing” to strengthen its presence.

“The international community must move quickly to present a clearly articulated strategy in support of the Libyan state and the efforts of a national unity government in combating the growing threat of terrorism,” he said.

In a recent report, U.N. sanctions monitors said that Libyan authorities need an international maritime force to help halt the illicit trade in oil and the flow of weapons.

Libya, backed by Egypt, has called for the arms embargo to be lifted. The government is already allowed to import weapons with the approval of the council committee overseeing the embargo imposed in 2011.

The committee has long urged Libya to improve monitoring of its weapons over concerns that government arms were being diverted to militant groups.

“The Libyan army is ready to accept an observer to ensure that the weapons approved by the committee are in effect delivered to the official Libyan army,” Libya’s U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi told the Security Council on Wednesday.

Fighting and air strikes have escalated even as the U.N. prepares to restart negotiations between the two factions in an attempt to broker a ceasefire, form a unity government and put Libya back on track to stability.

“Unless Libyan leaders act quickly and decisively, the risk to their country’s national unity and territorial integrity are real and imminent,” Leon said.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Dan Grebler and G Crosse

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