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US senators urge Trump administration to curb UAE, Russia’s violations of Libya’s arms embargo

A group of senators pressed the State Department on Tuesday to take action to curb widespread violations of a United Nations arms embargo on Libya and ensure that U.S.-manufactured weaponry and equipment are not used in the country’s prolonged conflict.

In a November 10 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said the Trump administration had taken “few concrete steps” to enforce the ban on providing weapons to Libya’s warring parties and urged the United States to impose sanctions on those who violate arms trade restrictions.

Commitments by countries that provide advanced weapons to Libya “have not been followed by actions, and foreign actors — including Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — continue to flagrantly violate the arms embargo with impunity,” the senators wrote in their letter.

Unfortunately, there have been few concrete steps to enforce the arms embargo or hold to account the perpetrators of these egregious violations,” they said, adding: “If the UN-led peace talks in Tunisia are to succeed, the arms embargo must be respected.”

The appeal for a stronger American response comes as diplomats express hope that an October ceasefire agreement and nascent political talks will end years of conflict between the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the western city of Tripoli warlord Khalifa Haftar’s militias based in the east.

The senators said they were “particularly concerned” about the UAE’s support of Haftar, citing Emirati flights to areas under his control and alleged arrangements to supply more than 1000 mercenaries from Sudan.

The senators linked the foreign military activity in Libya to the Trump administration’s plans to sell 50 F-35 advanced fighter aircraft to the Gulf nation, a sale that would make it the first country in the Middle East after Israel to acquire the jets. 

Some other lawmakers have already expressed concerns, and Democrats have introduced a bill that would impose requirements before the sale can proceed.

On Tuesday, the State Department announced that it had officially notified Congress about that proposed sale, which also includes armed Reaper drones.

The senators cited an incident in which a UAE-operated drone struck unarmed cadets at a Tripoli military academy, killing at least 26 people.

The senators also called on the State Department to verify that no US-manufactured aircraft or equipment had been transferred to Libya or been used to transport weapons, and asked it to “determine if the UAE’s violations of the arms embargo precludes them from future arms sales pursuant to the Arms Export Control Act [AECT].”

US-made weaponry, including Javelin missiles purchased by France, has occasionally shown up in Libya. More frequently, American-made military aircraft like the C-17 and C-130 have reportedly been used by Turkey, the UAE and other countries to ferry equipment to the two sides.

In a separate letter, Booker asked the GNA to work to address a backlog of visas for international aid workers, whose assistance he said is needed to help Libyans deal with the impact of war, displacement and the coronavirus pandemic.

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