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Europe threatens sanctions against parties violating Libya's fragile peace process

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Members of the self-proclaimed eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) special forces gather in the city of Benghazi on June 18, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

Britain, France, Germany and Italy have threatened to impose sanctions against any parties to the conflict in Libya that violate the fragile peace process in the North African country.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the four European countries urged all warring sides and their foreign supporters to refrain from taking any uncoordinated measures that would risk undermining the UN-led efforts aimed at finding a political solution to the Libyan conflict.

The statement further said that these countries are "ready to take measures against those who obstruct" the process, plunder state funds or commit rights abuses.

"This is an important step to restore Libya's sovereignty and the democratic legitimacy of its institutions," the statement said.

It also said that the four countries shared the opposition of Libyans "to all foreign interference, and support their willingness to come together in peaceful and patriotic dialogue", the statement said.

Libya descended into turmoil following the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi, its long-time ruler, in 2011. For the past six years, the country has been split between two rival camps, namely the UN-recognized government based in the capital, Tripoli, and another camp based in the eastern city of Tobruk, backed militarily by rebel forces led by strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The Libyan government receives major backing from Turkey, and the rebels from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan.

The rebels launched a deadly offensive to capture Tripoli in April last year, but have so far failed to advance past the city’s outskirts.

The conflict in Libya has escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country.

Last month, Libya’s rival sides eventually agreed to sign a permanent ceasefire agreement in all areas, to bring an end to months of deadly fighting in the North African country.

According to the ceasefire, all military units and armed groups must pull back from the front lines and return to their camps. All foreign fighters and mercenaries must leave Libya within three months – by January 23.

The warring sides will also work with the UN Libya mission to set up a way to monitor the truce.

Last week, UN’s acting Libya envoy Stephanie Williams said rival forces in Libya had failed to begin withdrawing as required under the October ceasefire agreement.

Germany: Turkey prevents checking ship suspected of taking arms to Libya

In a relevant development, Germany on Monday accused Turkey of preventing its forces from carrying out a full search of a Turkish cargo ship that they suspected of taking weapons to Libya.

The German Defense Ministry said on Monday that soldiers from the frigate Hamburg boarded the Turkish freighter, the Rosaline A, overnight, but had to abandon checks and withdraw after Turkey protested to the EU mission, which had ordered the search.

Turkey said the search violated international law as permission had not been granted by Ankara.

Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said, “The captain showed cooperation and shared information about the ship’s freight and its course. Despite this, at 17:45, armed forces from the Irini Operation boarded the ship and carried out a ‘monitoring’ that lasted long hours.”

“We protest this act, which was carried out by force and without authorization (and) retain the right to seek compensation,” he said.

The frigate was operating in the Mediterranean as part of the EU’s Irini mission, which aims to stop arms reaching the warring factions in Libya.

Turkey said the frigate was carrying humanitarian aid such as food and paint and the soldiers had found nothing suspicious.

"Following the search that lasted until the early hours of the morning, the soldiers understood that there was nothing on the ship apart from humanitarian aid, foods such as biscuits, and paint materials, and left the ship," an unnamed Turkish security source said.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry also announced that it has summoned the envoys of the European Union, Italy and Germany on Monday to protest over a German attempt to search its cargo ship.

A German Defense Ministry spokesman also said the soldiers had not found anything suspicious by the time they left the ship.

Confirming a report in the news magazine Der Spiegel, the German spokesman said the Hamburg had intercepted the Rosaline A about 200 km (125 miles) north of the Libyan city of Benghazi on Sunday night.

“All procedures were followed correctly,” a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, adding that the sailors had withdrawn as soon as Turkey objected.

The 16,000-tonne container ship left the Turkish port of Gemlik near Bursa last week, and was last seen off Athens, heading southwest towards Libya, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

Back in September, the EU slapped sanctions on Turkey’s Avrasya Shipping which it accused of using the cargo vessel Cirkin to smuggle weapons to Libya, a claim denied by Ankara, which said the ship was carrying humanitarian aid.

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