By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, June 6 (Reuters) - Britain on Monday proposed expanding a United Nations Security Council mandate for a European naval operation to allow it to crack down on arms smuggling in the high seas off war-torn Libya, though Russia voiced concerns about the idea.
Britain circulated a draft resolution to approve the measure to the 15-member council, diplomats said. In October, the council authorized the European naval operation to seize and dispose of boats operated by human traffickers.
"Now once again, we are asking this council to adopt a resolution on authorizing Operation Sophia to enforce the U.N. arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya," European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told the council.
"I can only hope that this council will once again do the right thing and help us make the Mediterranean a safer place for everyone," she said.
The U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in 2011 when former leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces cracked down on pro-democracy protesters. Libya's government is allowed to import arms with approval of the council's sanctions committee.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that Moscow was not opposed to allowing the European naval operation to search vessels for illicit weapons but that "we need to be very careful about it."
"Everything must be done in a way which does not create any suspicions among any of the Libyan parties," Churkin told reporters.
The fall of Gaddafi in 2011 sparked chaos with two competing governments backed by militias scrambling for control of the oil-producing country. A power vacuum has allowed Islamic State militants to gain a foothold.
A U.N.-backed unity government formed earlier this year is seen by western states as the best hope for uniting Libya's many political factions.
Churkin said he valued the work done by the EU's Operation Sophia to save the lives of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, but noted that this year more people had drowned than in the same period last year.
"The legitimate question arises - how suitable is it in this situation to broaden the mandate of the Sophia operation with additional, while important, oversight functions over the illegal flows of weapons?" he asked the council.
This year nearly 50,000 migrants have arrived in Italy from North Africa, according to the International Organization for Migration, while some 2,000 have died trying.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)
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