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EU sanctions Turkish firm over Libya arms embargo violations

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Monday slapped sanctions on three transport companies for violating the U.N. arms embargo on Libya, including the Turkish shipping firm that operates a vessel at the center of a naval standoff in the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and France three months ago.

At talks in Brussels, EU foreign ministers also imposed asset freezes and travel bans on two Libyan men accused of human rights abuses such as executions, and of the trafficking, kidnapping, rape and killing of migrants.

A statement said the decision means that a total of 17 people are now banned from entering Europe, while 21 people and 19 “entities” — usually companies, banks or other organizations — have their assets frozen. EU people and companies are banned from providing them with funds.

The Avrasya Shipping company, which is headquartered in Turkey, was “found to have violated the arms embargo in Libya.” The EU noted that the company operates a cargo ship called Cirkin, which “has been linked to transports of military material to Libya in May and June 2020.”

On June 10, a French frigate acting on NATO intelligence tried to inspect the Cirkin off the coast of Libya to check whether it was smuggling weapons in. But France says that Turkish naval vessels escorting the Cirkin locked onto the frigate with targeting radar. The frigate withdrew to avoid a conflict.

The government in Ankara has denied that any action by the Turkish warships was hostile. A NATO probe into the incident was “inconclusive,” according to Turkish officials, and its findings were never made public.

France, which was working with NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian at the time and is an ally in the military organization along with Turkey, pulled the frigate out of the fleet and is now working with the EU's Operation Irini policing the arms embargo on behalf of the United Nations.

Speaking in Cairo earlier this month, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said “it is a reality that the arms embargo is not being fully respected. We can say that it is not respected by anyone.” Kazakhstan-based commercial cargo carrier Sigma Airlines was also hit by EU sanctions for “the transfer of military material to Libya,” while Med Wave Shipping, headquartered in Jordan, was also targeted, in particular a vessel it runs called the Bana.