NATO chief 'knows nothing' of French arms for Libya rebels

30th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Thursday said he knew nothing about France's controversial decision to supply weapons to rebels in Libya.

But he said: "The NATO mission is very clear. It is strict conformity with the UN mandate, and within this mandate we have successfully enforced a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and protected the civilian population.

"At the end of the day, it is for the Libyans to set the future of their own country, and it is for the opposition to do the fighting on the ground -- because we have no intention whatsoever of putting forces on the ground," he added.

Rasmussen's comments came after a meeting in Vienna with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and in the wake of France's decision to supply weapons to rebels fighting Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

France is part of the NATO-led force flying air missions over Libya as part of a UN-mandated operation to protect civilians on the ground, that has seen regular air strikes in and around the capital Tripoli.

Rasmussen said warplanes had destroyed more than 2,400 military targets in some 13,000 missions.

France's ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday the delivery of arms to rebels was not in breach of the resolution adopted in February that established an arms embargo to Libya.

These were "self-defence weapons" for the civilian populations in rebel-held areas because they were "under threat", he said -- one of the exceptions provided for under Article 4 of UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

China on Thursday called on nations involved in the Libyan conflict to stick to the UN mandate authorising military action and to "avoid taking any action that goes beyond the mandate of the resolution".

The African Union condemned the flow of arms into Libya.

Britain, which is also taking part in the NATO campaign, made it clear Wednesday that it would not be following France's lead.

On Syria, Rasmussen said NATO would not be taking action despite the crackdown on pro-democracy protests there.

"We have no plan to intervene in Syria," he said.

"We operate in Libya on the basis of a UN mandate and the support of countries of the region," he added, which was not the situation as far as Syria was concerned.

"Having said that I strongly condemn the behaviour of the security forces and the crackdown on the civil population," Rasmussen added.

The military repression of civilian protests, ordered by President Bashar al-Assad, has been repeatedly condemned by the United States, the European Union and several EU member states individually.

© 2011 AFP

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