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France arming rebels

Posted by seumasach on June 29, 2011


Nato reviews Libya campaign after France admits arming rebels


29th June, 2011

Nato was today urgently reviewing the conduct of its military campaign inLibya after France admitted arming rebel fighters in apparent defiance of the UN mandate.

The revelation surprised officials in Nato’s headquarters in Brussels and raised awkward questions about whether the French had broken international law – UN resolution 1973 specifically allows Nato nations to protect civilians in Libya, but appears to stop short of permitting the provision of weapons.

Nato has consistently said it would not provide arms to rebel commanders, saying it was beyond its remit. But that pledge came under scrutiny after military chiefs in Paris confirmed that French planes had dropped machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles to rebels in the western Nafusa mountains.

A report in Le Figaro said the French had parachuted “large amounts” of munitions to help the rebel push on the capital Tripoli earlier this month.

This was confirmed by the armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard. He said the French had initially provided humanitarian aid including water, food and medical supplies to civilians in the region who were under seige from regime forces.

“There were humanitarian drops because the humanitarian situation was worsening and at one point it seemed the security situation was threatening civilians who could not defend themselves,” Burkhard told Reuters.

“France therefore also sent equipment allowing them to defend themselves, comprising light weapons and munitions.” The munitions were “self-defence” assets, he said.

It appears France did not inform any of its Nato allies about the weapons drop, or Nato headquarters, where officials were today desperately seeking clarification from Paris about exactly what it had done and why.

Nato was also trying to establish what legal basis France had for taking this apparently unilateral action. Officials expressed surprise over what had happened and insisted its military approach had not changed.

“Nato knows what its mission is and that the mandate allows certain things,” said a source.

France’s admission highlights tensions within Nato over the conduct of the campaign, and will raise new questions over whether the coalition should be doing more to hasten Gaddafi’s downfall.

Some countries are privately likely to welcome any sign of a more pro-active effort to end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.

The Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini has previously claimed that the UN resolution should not prohibit providing weapons to the rebels, saying this could be “morally justified.”

In a further sign of growing frustration, the Dutch defence minister Hans Hillen today criticised the Nato campaign, saying those allies who had thought bombing would force Muammar Gaddafi to step down “naive”. He also insisted that Nato’s mission should be confined to its mandate to protect civilians.

“If it changes into driving out a dictator, then the question is whether Nato should accept this as a new task. Libya is too big and all the military goals too big. The solution should be a political solution.”

The Ministry of Defence said British forces had not supplied any weapons to to the rebels, though the foreign office admitted the UN resolution could be interpreted in different ways by different countries.

“Our position is clear,” a spokesman said. “There is an arms embargo in Libya. At the same time, UN resolution 1973 allows all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populations from the threat of attack. We think that the UN resolution allows in certain limited circumstances defensive weapons to be provided. But the UK is not engaged in that. Other countries will interpret the resolution in their own way.”

The rebels are known to have received some arms from Qatar. But speaking on Tuesday, after a meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and rebel chief Mahmoud Jibril, National Transitional Council Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said it had not asked for any further military assistance.

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