France, Britain send officers to advise Libya rebels

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France said Wednesday it had sent military advisers to Libya's rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) in their Benghazi stronghold, the day after key ally Britain announced a similar measure.

"France has placed a small number of liaison officers alongside our special envoy to Benghazi who are carrying out a liaison mission with the TNC," foreign ministry spokeswoman Christine Fage told reporters.

"The precise objective is to give the TNC essentially technical, logistical and organisational advice to reinforce the protection of civilians and to improve the distribution of humanitarian and medical aid," she said.

The announcement came the day after France's main ally in the drive to help rebels defeat Moamer Kadhafi's forces, Britain, said it would send advisers to help organise the stalled rebellion, amid heavy civilian casualties.

But western powers have strongly denied they are preparing to break their taboo against putting foreign combat troops on the battlefield to bolster the two-month-old revolt.

"Fewer than 10" officers are involved, government spokesman Francois Baroin told journalists following a cabinet meeting, repeating France's position that: "We are not envisaging troops on the ground, in any shape or form."

Baroin also said France was not seeking a new UN Security Council action that would give the allies a broader mandate to intervene in Libya.

"We are not taking the initiative to seek a new Security Council resolution. The French position is stable and unchanged on this problem of applying Resolution 1973," he said.

The resolution permitted the use of force to protect Libyan civilians, but explicitly forbade a "foreign occupation force" -- a phrase which some states interpret as banning any ground intervention at all.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted Tuesday that adding around 12 military advisers to the diplomatic team in Benghazi did not breach the UN resolution authorising air strikes against Kadhafi forces.

Hague said the British advisers would not arm or train the rebels, but would help them develop organisational structures, communications and logistics and coordinating humanitarian aid and medical supplies.

"They're people with the expertise in those sorts of things. They're not there, I stress, to train fighting forces, to arm fighting forces or, of course, to take part in any fighting themselves," he added.

Rebels in Libya's besieged city of Misrata have called for Britain and France to send troops to help the fight against Kadhafi's regime.

A senior member of Misrata's governing council, Nuri Abdullah Abdullati, said they were asking for the troops on "humanitarian and Islamic" principles.

The rebels in Misrata, which has been under siege for more than a month and seen hundreds killed, have no direct contact with coalition forces, which have nevertheless carried out air strikes on Kadhafi allies besieging the town.

Coalition powers have called for Kadhafi to stand down but have steered clear of suggesting that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 passed on March 19 enables them to topple him themselves.

The head of the TNC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, was to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy later Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

On March 10, France became the first country to recognise the TNC as a "legitimate representative" of the Libyan people when Sarkozy received three of the council's representatives.

© 2011 AFP

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