France Defends Arms Airlift to Libyan Rebels

Posted June 29th, 2011 at 9:55 pm (UTC-5)
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France has defended its move to airlift weapons to Libyan rebels, saying it did not break a United Nations arms embargo because the munitions were needed to defend civilians under threat.

French Ambassador to the U.N. Gerard Araud said Wednesday that Paris had acted under a provision of the Security Council resolution adopted in March that imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and authorized military action to protect civilians.

Araud said France believes a clause outlining that member states can take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians means that “in exceptional circumstances” a 1970 U.N. arms embargo on Libya can be ignored.

Earlier Wednesday, French officials confirmed a Le Figaro newspaper report saying that “large amounts” of weapons, munitions and food were parachuted into the Jebel Nafusa region for rebel use in their battles against pro-government forces. The area is in the western Libyan mountains.

In the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi played down reports of rebel advances, saying the situation in the western mountains is “under control.”

On Tuesday, rebels said they captured a large arms depot from forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, boosting critical resupply efforts and fueling an opposition push toward Tripoli.

Hundreds of rebel fighters combed through the weapons cache, a portion of which had exploded following a NATO bombing. But much remained intact, and a long rebel vehicle convoy left loaded with rockets, ammunition, high-caliber guns and assault rifles.

Insurgents also seized dozens of military vehicles at the desert site, some 20 kilometers southeast of Zintan, following clashes with loyalist troops.

Meanwhile, Britain said a new report by a team planning for a post-conflict Libya recommends that Mr. Gadhafi's security forces be left intact after a rebel victory, avoiding what many view as a critical error made after the Iraq war.