Britain set up secret unit to cut fuel to Kadhafi

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Britain set up a covert unit in London to block oil supplies to Moamer Kadhafi and ensure the rebels received enough fuel for their fight against the Libyan dictator, a diplomatic source said Thursday.

The "Libyan oil cell" comprised a handful of a civil servants, ministers and military figures working secretly from the Foreign Office in central London.

The unit was the brain child of Alan Duncan, a minister in the Department for International Development, who convinced Prime Minister David Cameron that part of the solution to the conflict lay in oil, reports said.

The six-strong team was set up in April and worked from two disused rooms on the top floor of the Foreign Office, where officials gathered information about oil and fuel movements and passed it on to the government and NATO.

Oil was targeted as it was "a very important part of Kadhafi's military machine," a British diplomatic source told AFP.

"Our strategy for dealing with the Kadhafi regime was to build pressure on him across the board, looking at diplomatic, political or economic elements.

"The oil cell was part of (the government)'s multi-faceted and joined-up approach towards Libya."

Key initiatives included helping with the blockade of Kadhafi-held ports by passing advice to NATO and helping locate routes that smugglers were using to get fuel into Libya overland, the BBC and Times newspaper said.

The unit also provided intelligence to the rebels to cut off the supply of crude oil from the Nafusa mountains to Kadhafi's refinery at the port of Zawiya.

Smugglers were trying to transport oil on land routes after the European Union froze the assets of nearly 50 entities including six ports in Libya to put pressure on Kadhafi to ease the crackdown on anti-regime protests.

London-based oil traders were encouraged to sell fuel to the rebels in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and were put in contact with the rebel leadership.

British media reported that Duncan once worked for Vitol, the oil trading group that provided fuel to the rebels.

But government sources told the BBC there was no conflict of interest as the Libya oil cell had no commercial relationship with the company.

Libya's rebels triumphantly marched into Tripoli in August after a six-month conflict and overran Kadhafi's compound, but the toppled leader remains on the run.

The disclosure came as France hosted a "Friends of Libya" conference Thursday in Paris to welcome Libya's new rebel rulers into the international fold.

The conference is also designed to allow states that stood by during the uprising to belatedly back Tripoli's fledgling revolutionary regime.

© 2011 AFP

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