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By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday made it easier for Libya to obtain non-lethal equipment such as bulletproof vests and armoured cars, but expressed concern at the spread of weapons from the North African country to nearby states such as Mali.
The 15-member council tweaked the arms embargo, imposed at the start of an uprising in 2011 that culminated in the ouster of leader Muammar Gaddafi, in a unanimously adopted resolution that also extended the U.N. mission in the country for one year.
But it expressed "concern at illicit proliferation of all arms and related materiel of all types, in particular heavy and light weapons, small arms and man-portable surface-to-air missiles, from Libya, in the region and its negative impact on regional and international peace and security."
The Libyan government has struggled to exert authority and the country's south has become a smuggling route for weapons which have reached al Qaeda militants deep in the Sahara desert.
Libyan government security forces remain weak and militias, made up of former rebel fighters, hold the power on the ground. The lawless region is also a conduit for trafficking legal and contraband goods.
"There are suggestions that weapons are going out through the southern borders of Libya to countries in the region," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters. "We know that in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi quite a number of weapons did flow into Mali and Niger."
The Security Council resolution urged the Libyan government to improve its monitoring of arms and related material that is supplied, sold or transferred to the government - with approval of the U.N. sanctions committee that oversees the arms embargo.
The council suggested Libya issue written guarantees to suppliers that the weapons would only be used by government security forces and urged other countries and regional organizations to help strengthen these mechanisms.
WEAPONS SPREAD AT 'WORRYING SCALE'
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told the council the government had control of its borders with Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt. Zeidan said last month he wanted the council to lift the arms embargo on Libya, but council members said they had not yet received an official request.
"The security challenges we meet today are enormous and difficult but we have been able within a short time to have the mechanism and means to have control and we have moved forward in controlling weapons from, and in to Libya," he said.
But Rwanda's U.N. Ambassador Eugene Richard Gasana, chair of the Libya sanctions committee, told the council the U.N. panel of experts which monitors the sanctions on Libya had recently "found that the proliferation of weapons from Libya had continued at a worrying scale and spread into new territory."
The Security Council also expressed "grave concern at continuing reports of reprisals, arbitrary detentions without access to due process, wrongful imprisonment, mistreatment, torture and extrajudicial executions in Libya."
It called for the immediate release of all foreigners illegally detained in Libya.
The United Nations said 7,000 detainees, many of whom are sub-Saharan Africans suspected of fighting for Gaddafi, were still being held in detention centres across the country, some operated by the government and some by revolutionary brigades.
The U.N. human rights agency and aid groups have accused the brigades of torturing detainees.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Todd Eastham)