Tunisia holds UN Libya arms trafficking expert in jail

A UN-appointed expert on breaches of the Libyan arms embargo has been arrested and kept in a Tunisian jail for nearly a month.

Moncef Kartas, a Tunisian-German dual national, was arrested on 26 March. He is one of six UN experts appointed to investigate breaches of the UN-imposed embargo on arms to Libya first introduced in 2011. The UN says his detention is a violation of his diplomatic immunity.

Previous UN reports, published annually, have exposed widespread breaches of the arms embargo, notably by the United Arab Emirates, which has been accused of supplying weapons to the forces of Khalifa Haftar. Haftar’s forces are currently assaulting Tripoli with Grad rockets, ground troops and aircraft. The reports have also exposed breaches of the embargo by Turkey.

The UN has expressed grave concern at the arrest of Kartas and demanded to be told more about the conditions in which he is being kept. His specialism was arms trafficking.

The Tunisians have accused him of espionage, but few details have emerged of any specific charges, prompting claims that Tunisia was uneasy that Kartas had discovered something the government did not want to be published.

A previous UN sanctions report, covering breaches of arms and oil export embargoes, found the Tunisian government had spurned UN requests to give details of a cargo manifest following a visit by the eastern Libyan warlord Haftar to Tunis in late 2017. Overall, the reports have not highlighted the Tunisians as a country suspected of being in breach of the embargo, however. Tunisia is broadly supportive of the UN-recognised government based in Tripoli.

The spokesman for António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said last week: “The arrest and detention by the Tunisian authorities of Moncef Kartas … while he was performing his official duties is a matter of very grave concern.”

Middle East researchers and academics have also described Kartas’s arrest as a state scandal.

Kartas was arrested at Tunis airport alongside a Tunisian national, and has been arraigned in front of a judge, who ruled he must stay in detention.

Tunisia’s interior ministry said last month that “confidential documents containing sensitive detailed data capable of harming national security” were seized in relation to the UN expert’s arrest.

The UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that foreign powers were still supplying weapons to the parties in the conflict in Libya, but did not identify any specific country.

Qatar, which has links to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, called this week for the UN arms embargo against Haftar to be enforced more strictly.