UN ferries aid to Libya on plane experts believe broke its own arms embargo

Bel Trew
A Cham Wings plane delivering aid in Libya (World Health Organization)
A Cham Wings plane delivering aid in Libya (World Health Organization)

The United Nations has delivered aid to Benghazi using a US-sanctioned Syrian airline that experts believes violated a UN arms embargo in Libya by allegedly ferrying mercenaries and military material into the country.

Using flight tracking websites, The Independent identified the Cham Wings plane used by the UN to transport 16 tonnes of emergency medicines and vital medical supplies from the UAE to the eastern city of Benghazi on the 6 and 8 of January.

According to a senior international diplomat, aware of an ongoing confidential UN probe into violations, the same plane was identified by a UN panel of experts to have ferried fighters and weapons into Libya, in violation of a UN arms embargo at least three times in 2020 and twice in 2019.

The World Food Programme (WFP) told The Independent it facilitated the transport of 16 tonnes of vital supplies from the Emirates to Libya, on behalf of the World Health Organisation (WHO) as part of the UN’s global COVID-19 emergency response.

“Due to the situation on the ground, the options for air freight delivery into Libya are very limited, and in this case, the WHO medical cargo was transported by the air carrier Cham Wings, which is not subject to United Nations sanctions.”

The international diplomat told The Independent the use of Cham Wings planes for UN aid was “institutionally embarrassing”, given UN experts have identified dozens of “suspicious“ Cham Wings flights into east Libya over the last two years including ones they believe transported fighters and military material into the country.

Cham Wings says it operates commercial flights into the country.

Libya has been torn apart by an increasingly complex civil war in the decade since Muammer Gaddafi was ousted.

The country is roughly split in two with the UN-recognised government operating out of Tripoli on one side and on the other a rival administration allied to renegade commander Khalifa Haftar who is based in Benghazi.

UN experts say all sides have deployed mercenaries and foreign weaponry in “rampant” violation of a decade-old arms embargo. Turkey has militarily intervened on behalf of the Tripoli government, while UN reports say Egypt, Russia and the UAE have backed Haftar’s side.

UN experts believe Cham Wings flights, including the specific plane used by the WHO, likely transported Syrian mercenaries to bolster Haftar’s forces.

Soldiers loyal to Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar take part in Independence Day celebrations in Benghazi last month. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-FetoriREUTERS
Soldiers loyal to Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar take part in Independence Day celebrations in Benghazi last month. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-FetoriREUTERS

The World Health Organisation tweeted a photo of boxes of aid being loaded on to a Cham Wings plane on Monday prompting a flurry of criticism online.

Transporting aid into war-torn Libya has become increasingly difficult as the conflict has dragged on. WFP officials who managed logistics said they had few options.

Privately owned Cham Wings was sanctioned by the US in 2016 for allegedly transporting pro-Assad fighters to Syria and helping Syrian military intelligence transport weapons and equipment. In the US Treasury designation, it says that it also acted on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

In October the airline tweeted that it had started a collaboration with the WFP and WHO. In December it tweeted about a flight from Sharjah to Benghazi again carrying UN medical supplies.

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