Women walk near "Souk Libya" marketplace in the town of Ben Guerdane, near the Libyan border in Tunisia May 24, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

United Nations - Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is strongly urging all countries to implement a UN arms embargo against Libya, saying illegal weapons transfers by land, sea and air are fuelling the current fighting in the oil-rich country.

Guterres made the appeal in a report circulated Monday ahead of the UN Security Council’s unanimous approval of a resolution authorising the inspection of vessels on the high seas headed to or from Libya for another year to enforce the arms embargo.

The European Union’s Operation Sophia has been the only regional naval operation carrying out inspections. While the EU in March extended that operation’s mandate until September 30, it suspended deployment of ships, saying that it instead would send more planes to monitor the area.

Italy commands Operation Sophia, but the populist government in Rome refuses to allow its ships or rescue vessels from aid groups that rescue migrants to disembark in Italian ports. The EU move on suspending the naval mission was widely viewed as being aimed at easing tensions with Italy’s anti-migrant government.

Guterres noted that UN experts monitoring the arms embargo, individual countries and regional organisations “have all reported on illicit transfers of arms and related materiel into and out of Libya.”

Implementing all measures related to the arms embargo is “of immediate importance in de-escalating the current situation” and is “of critical importance to the protection of civilians and the restoration of security and stability in Libya and the region,” the secretary-general said.

Civil war in Libya in 2011 toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The chaos that followed resulted in a divided country, with a UN-aligned, but weak administration in the capital of Tripoli overseeing the country’s west and a rival government in the east aligned with the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.

Haftar launched a military offensive in early April aimed at taking Tripoli despite commitments to move towards elections in the North African country. Clashes receded during the start of Ramadan but later intensified.