France defends arms to Libyan rebels

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Russia on Thursday demanded an explanation from France over its reported arms drops to Libyan rebels, as Paris denied a newspaper report that they had included anti-tank missiles.

"We are awaiting a response," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, Russian news agencies reported.

"If this is confirmed, it would be a brazen violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1970," Lavrov said.

That resolution, passed in February, prohibited states from providing any kind of arms to Libya.

It was followed in March by Resolution 1973 that authorised nations "to take all necessary measures" to help protect civilians against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's forces, which led to the current NATO-led operation.

France's ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday the delivery of arms to rebels was not in breach of the February resolution on the arms embargo.

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 Resolution 1973.

Lavrov is due to hold talks with his French counterpart Alain Juppe in Moscow on Friday.

China too urged nations involved in the Libyan conflict to stick to the UN mandate authorising military action, in comments Thursday.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, responding to a question on the French arms drops, told reporters countries involved in the Libya conflict should "avoid taking any action that goes beyond the mandate of the resolution."

Both China and Russia abstained from the UN vote on Resolution 1973 that authorised the current military operation against the Kadhafi regime.

France meanwhile denied the details of a report in the conservative daily Le Figaro regarding the arms drops.

The paper, citing someone it described as a senior source and referring to confidential intelligence documents, said France had air-dropped tonnes of arms including Milan anti-tank missiles and light armoured vehicles.

But France's top military spokesman Thierry Burkhard said: "No Milan anti-tank missiles have been parachuted into Jebel Nafusa," a region southeast of Tripoli.

France had only supplied "light arms" including machine guns and rocket launchers, he added.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday said he knew nothing about France's operation.

"The NATO mission is very clear," he said.

"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."

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

Jean Ping, the chairman of the African Union Commission, its executive body, expressed concern late Wednesday at the flow of weapons into Libya.

Ping, speaking ahead of the two-day AU summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, did not criticise France directly.

"What worries us is not who is giving what," he said.

"It is simply that these weapons are being given by all parties to all the other parties."

They were already reaching Al-Qaeda, drug dealers and traffickers and thus would further destabilise the region.

© 2011 AFP

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