US won't rule out arming Libyan rebels

29th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Obama administration has not ruled out arming rebel fighters in Libya, the US officials said Tuesday, despite assertions by key US allies that such a move would be outside the UN mandate.

"We've not made that decision... but we've not ruled that out," Washington's UN ambassador Susan Rice told ABC television when asked about military support to the fighters battling Kadhafi's forces.

Her remarks echoed earlier US statements suggesting that UN Resolution 1973 allows for arming the rebels.

But Washington's stance is at odds with one held by British Defense Minister Liam Fox, who told the BBC at the weekend: "We are not arming the rebels, we are not planning to arm the rebels."

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron agreed, telling parliament: "I think I am right in saying that the resolution is clear.... There is an arms embargo, and that arms embargo has to be enforced across Libya."

The Wall Street Journal reported that Egypt has been funneling arms to the rebels, but US officials will neither confirm nor deny the report.

"We're not in direct support of the opposition, that's not part of our mandate and we're not coordinating with the opposition," Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the US military's Joint Staff, told reporters Monday.

Absent direct military support, Rice noted Tuesday there were also "non-military means at our disposal" to get rid of Kadhafi, the longest-serving Arab ruler after over four decades in power, citing an arms embargo, asset freezes, cutting off the flow of mercenaries to the North African nation and aid to the opposition.

She stressed that protecting civilians and establishing a no-fly zone were the main US goals in the international mission there.

"Tens of thousands of people have been saved in a region that is fragile; it is more stable as a result," she told CBS television in a separate interview Tuesday.

US President Barack Obama has said he wanted Kadhafi out, but Rice said there is no indication that the Libyan leader plans to step down "absent continued pressure from the international community," she added.

"How Kadhafi departs, and under what circumstances, will ultimately be for the Libyan people to decide," Rice said.

"But the United Nations Security Council, the United States and our allies have made very clear that there needs to be accountability and justice for crimes committed."

© 2011 AFP

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