UN experts: Armed groups threaten Libya political transition

UN experts say "predatory behavior" by armed groups in Libya is posing a direct threat to forming a national government and ending lawlessness that has fueled Islamic militancy, human trafficking and instability in the wider region.

The experts also warned in the summary of a report to the UN Security Council obtained on Friday by The Associated Press that "the use of violence to exert control over Libya's state institutions might result in a return of armed confrontations in Tripoli," the country's capital.

They said the Libyan Investment Authority, National Oil Corporation and Central Bank of Libya "were targets of threats and attacks, impacting on the performance of Libya's oil and financial sectors."

Libya slid into chaos after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed ruler Muammar Gaddafi. It is now split between rival governments in the east and the west, each backed by an array of militias.

In May, Fayez Serraj, prime minister of the UN-backed government in Tripoli, and Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army in the east, agreed on a roadmap aimed at restoring order in the country. It calls for parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for December 10.

But the panel of experts said "predatory behavior of armed groups posed a direct threat to Libya's political transition."

"Armed groups are responsible for targeted persecutions and serious human rights violations, which are deepening grievances among some categories of the population and ultimately threatening long-term peace and stability in Libya," the experts said.

Human trafficking and migrant smuggling "are substantially benefiting armed groups," they said, fueling instability and undermining the country's economy.

The experts said most armed groups involved are affiliated either with the Serraj government or Hafter's Libyan National Army.

Libya has emerged as a major transit point to Europe for people fleeing poverty and civil war elsewhere in Africa and human traffickers have exploited the chaos in the country.

The experts said "criminal networks" organize convoys of migrants "and use sexual exploitation to generate significant revenues." They expressed concern at impunity for those systematically violating human rights.

"The panel is particularly concerned that different armed groups attempt to gain legitimacy by ostensibly supporting efforts to combat irregular migration and thereby receiving technical and material assistance from foreign actors," the report said.

The experts said this has led to an increase in the use of vessels mounted with weapons in both eastern and western Libya.

The panel said it also noted a growing number of armored vehicles and pickup trucks fitted with heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles and rocket and mortar launchers in combat theaters particularly in the east, in apparent violation of the UN arms embargo.

In other violations of the embargo, the panel said weapons and related materiel both from the Gaddafi regime's stockpiles and transfers conducted after 2011 continue to fall into the hands of Libyan and foreign armed groups.

"The diversion of arms feeds into the increasing insecurity," the panel said, and "constitutes a continued threat to peace and security in Libya and neighboring countries."

"Foreign fighters and armed groups, moving in and out of Libya, exploit the proliferation of arms and related material in Libya resulting in regular violations of the arms embargo," the experts said.

As for other sanctions, the panel said that since August 2017 it documented six attempts by the Eastern National Oil Corporation in Benghazi "to illicitly export crude oil." It added that illicit exports of refined petroleum products, both by land and sea, "continue to be a prosperous activity."

The panel said an analysis of available data and information on assets of the Libyan Investment Authority show "two major instances of non-compliance" with UN sanctions freezing its assets.

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