The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution allowing the EU's maritime force off Libya's coast to seize illegal weapons. The goal is to stop fueling violence and instability in the North African nation.
The resolution drafted by British and French authorizes EU ships in Operation Sophia - which is currently used to seize migrant-smuggling vessels - also to stop vessels at sea off Libya's coast suspected of smuggling arms in violation of a UN arms embargo. This will be for an initial period of 12 months.
A failing state
Since 2014, Libya has been torn between two parliaments and governments, each backed by militias and tribes, while IS militants have exploited the turmoil, seizing territory.
Libya has been in turmoil since the 2011 fall of Moammar Gadhafi, with militias loyal to the UN-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj battling to retake the key city of Sirte from "Islamic State" jihadists.
The UN acts
The Security Council also reiterated its "grave concern" at the growing threat from "terrorist groups" in Libya proclaiming allegiance to IS and to al-Qaida.
UN sanctions monitors have reported shipments from Egypt, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan to various factions. Libya has a lot of weapons floating around, with about 20 million pieces of armaments of all types in a country of six million people, according to the UN.
If passed, the resolution has the potential to be a "game changer" for Libya, Council President Francois Delattre of France said.
"We would finally have the means to enforce the arms embargo in Libya," he said. "In doing so, we will be better equipped to fight against" the IS group.
EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Luxembourg on June 20 and are expected to pass to the new anti-arms smuggling dimension of Operation Sophia.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement welcoming the vote that Operation Sophia would "play an important role" in enforcing the arms embargo.
"The existing arms embargo has been only partially effective and the abundance of weapons in Libya has undermined peace and security in the country and the region," Britain's UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said.
Moscow not happy, but won't veto
Meanwhile, Russia's deputy UN ambassador Vladimir Safronkov asked what were "the real motives" behind the resolution's sponsors and complained that the text didn't stress the goal of establishing united security forces in Libya.
He said Moscow wouldn't however use its veto power to block its adoption.
In a nod to Moscow, the resolution stipulated that any given ship carrying out the interception must make "good-faith efforts to seek the consent" of the country where the vessel is registered prior to an inspection.
jbh/bw (AP, AFP, dpa)