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UN envoy favors naval blockade to patrol Libya coast as talks continue between rival factions

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ROME — The U.N. envoy for Libya is calling for the European Union to mount a naval blockade of Libya that would prevent the flow of weapons to militants and the illegal export of the country's oil, while also providing something of a security buffer to Libya's nervous northern neighbor, Italy.

In an interview published Saturday with Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Bernardino Leon said he not only favors a blockade, but that it is necessary and the only thing that can be done concretely at this time.

"There's a measure that the European Union can take right away: Come out in force to guard the seas off Libya. Italy can't do it alone. It needs help," Leon was quoted as saying.

Leon said he was certain that such a mission would receive the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. He gave the interview from Rabat, Morocco, where he is presiding over the first round of talks between representatives of the two rival Libya parliaments on forming a national unity government.

Last week, a U.N. panel of experts recommended a maritime monitoring force for Libya to monitor the arms embargo and prevent the illegal export of oil: Libya has Africa's largest proven reserves of crude, but the report found that the government has lost control over most of its installations.

A beefed up maritime presence would go a long way toward easing Italian anxiety over Islamic State group-affiliated militants in Libya and the flow of refugees fleeing toward Italian shores. It is unclear, however, whether search and rescue would be part of any monitoring force's remit.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in Riga, Latvia, that talks were underway about the EU's support of a future national unity government.

"This could mean also some naval presence, but we are in a far too early stage now to get into the details. We are discussing that internally, with the U.N., and we hope to be able to discuss that with the Libyan authorities soon in the future."

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