France, Germany, Italy threaten sanctions over arms for Libya

PARIS (Reuters) - The leaders of France, Germany and Italy on Saturday threatened for the first time to use sanctions against countries that continued to violate a United Nations arms embargo on Libya.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged "all foreign actors to end their increasing interference and to fully respect the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council" in a joint statement issued by the French presidency after meeting in Brussels.

"We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions if the breaches of the embargo at sea, on land or in the air continue, and look forward to the proposals that the High Representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy will make in this regard," they said

Turkey has intervened decisively in recent weeks in Libya, providing air support, weapons and allied fighters from Syria to help the internationally recognised government based in Tripoli repel a year-long assault by the forces of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar is backed by the UAE, Egypt and Russia, which have also been accused by the U.N. of breaking the embargo.

The Tripoli-based government on Saturday moved fighters closer to Sirte, a gateway to Libya's main oil terminals, which the government says it plans to recapture from Haftar's forces.

France has itself faced criticism for its ambiguity with regard to Haftar, having previously backed him in the fight against Islamist militants.

Saturday's joint statement was the first time the three major powers had threatened sanctions amid fears of a new escalation on the ground. [nL5N2EP0BU]

"We share serious concerns about the mounting military tensions in this country and the increased risk of regional escalation," they said. "We therefore call on all the Libyan parties and their foreign supporters to immediately cease the fighting and put an end to the ongoing military escalation across the country."

Diplomats have said European Union nations could also consider imposing sanctions on individuals from both Libyan sides.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Hugh Lawson)