France gives Libya rebels arms but Britain balks

African leaders criticize French arms deliveries; Cash-trapped rebels demand more weapons, money

Friday, July 01, 2011 - London/Paris/Benghazi—France has acknowledged dropping arms to rebels in Libya, while NATO ally Britain is declining to follow suit over concerns about UN Security Council authorization.

The French ambassador to the United Nations Gerard Araud said Wednesday that his country’s delivery of arms to the rebels was not in breach of a Security Council resolution that established an arms embargo to Libya.

“We decided to provide self-defence weapons to the civilian populations because we considered these populations were under threat,” he told reporters.

Colonel Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the French general staff, told AFP the shipments were essentially light arms such as assault rifles to help civilians protect themselves from regime troops.

Meanwhile, African leaders are concerned by French arms deliveries to Libyan rebels, fearing weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists, according to a top official.

Ahead of a two-day African Union (AU) summit here from Thursday, AU Commission chairman Juan Ping did not criticise France directly but said he was worried by weapons proliferation.

France acknowledged on Wednesday that it had begun dropping arms to rebels in Libya while NATO ally Britain said it would not follow suit over concerns about UN Security Council authorization.

Libya’s opposition leader said Thursday that rebels need more weapons and funding, as Britain offered new body armor and uniforms for civilian police officers in the country’s eastern cities.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the U.K. was offering 5,000 sets of body armor, 6,650 uniforms, 5,000 high-visibility vests and communications equipment to help police protect rebel leaders and international officials.

But in talks in Vienna, Libya’s opposition chief insisted rebels fighting Moammar Gadhafi’s forces need more and better weapons to win their conflict and spare more bloodshed.

Foreign deliveries of military hardware would give the rebels a chance to “decide this battle quickly (and) to spill as little blood as possible,” said Mahmoud Jibril, of the Transitional National Council.

Jibril spoke after meeting Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and a day after France acknowledged air-dropping weapons to the rebels.

French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said Wednesday that France had airlifted weapons to Libyan civilians in a mountain region south of Tripoli. The deliveries of guns, rocket-propelled grenades and munitions took place in early June in the western Nafusa mountains, when Gadhafi’s troops had encircled civilians.—Agencies

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