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NATO Confident of Libya Arms Embargo Enforcement

Vice Adm. Rinaldo Veri of Italy speaks during a press conference at NATO's base in Naples, Italy, March 24, 2011.

NATO’s commander for the naval blockade of Libya, Admiral Rinaldo Veri of Italy, said at his first press briefing Thursday in Naples that he expects to have enough vessels in place in a few days for effective operations.

He said he expects to have enough ships to effectively prevent weapons and mercenaries from entering Libya. Holding his first meeting with the press in Naples, one day after alliance vessels began their patrols, he said he is still in a “build-up phase.”

Admiral Veri said the Mediterranean is the “easiest, fastest and most direct” way to get weapons into Libya and that it is impossible to patrol its entire coast.

Explaining the work of the alliance vessels, he said that if there are suspicions that a ship is breaking the embargo, inspections will be carried out and these also will include boarding the vessels. A vessel can be discovered to be clean, but if that is not the case, it could be an enemy ship and require sending armed men on board to continue the investigation.

Admiral Veri declined to say how many ships he had at his disposal or how many had been pledged. He said contributing nations include Italy, Britain, Greece, the United States, Canada, Spain and Turkey. On Wednesday, NATO officials in Brussels said the alliance had received offers for up to 16 vessels.

The United Nations Security Council imposed the arms embargo last month to prevent weapons, ammunition, tanks and spare parts - as well as foreign mercenaries - from entering Libya to support Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s loyalists. More than two weeks later, the U.N. imposed a no-fly zone that coalition forces began enforcing on Saturday.

Italy has offered seven of its military bases for use by coalition aircraft and has insisted the full operation be led by NATO in Naples, which is home to the alliance’s joint command for maritime, air and land forces in the region.