Unlike France, Britain won't arm Libya rebels: minister

29th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain will not deliver arms to Libya's rebels as France has done, a senior British defence official said Wednesday, saying it raises "quite a few issues".

"No, Britain is not considering supplying arms to the opposition in Libya," Gerald Howarth, minister for international security strategy, told reporters on the sidelines of a defence policy forum in Brussels.

"We think that it does raise quite a few issues, not least the United Nations resolution, although in some circumstances that could be justified," he said.

"But it is very much a matter for France, and no criticism of France intended," he said. "But it is not something that we should be doing."

Although the UN Security Council resolution imposed an arms embargo on Libya, Howarth said the text is "quite broad" and leaves room for "quite a wide range of interpretation".

"I'm not a lawyer and there is a lot of legal technicalities surrounding the interpretation of the resolution and what is admissible and what is not," he said.

"The good news in our view is that the United Nations resolution is quite broad and not as restrictive as previous resolutions may have appeared to be."

The French military said Wednesday that it had air dropped "light weapons" earlier this month to Libyan rebels fighting Moamer Kadhafi's forces in the highlands south of Tripoli.

A British official noted that the UN resolution allows "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from the Kadhafi regime.

"We do think the UN resolutions allow in certain limited circumstances defensive weapons to be provided, but the UK is not engaged in that," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Other countries will interpret the resolution in their own way," the official said.

Italian Admiral Di Paola, who chairs the committee of NATO military chiefs, told reporters after the same policy forum that the alliance was not delivering arms to the rebels as an organisation.

"We as NATO, we are not engaged in this kind of activity, although it is also well known that there are nations ... that are doing this, so it is not up to me to comment or to judge," he said without naming those countries.

Asked whether France was violating the UN arms embargo, which NATO is enforcing through a naval blockade, Di Paola said: "I don't know, I can't judge. I don't judge what I don't know when I don't have testimony or facts."

© 2011 AFP

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