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France under fire for arming rebels

Video by Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-07-03

France and Russia have held a high level diplomatic meeting after the French army admitted it was secretly arming Libyan rebels, a move Moscow says violates current UN Resolutions.

After helping rebel forces advance their positions in Libya, France has had to fend off criticism from Russia.

Under pressure from Moscow, French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe clearly stated on Friday that the country had informed NATO partners and the Security Council about the delivery of weapons and ammunition to forces at war with the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The following countries have recognised the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya’s sole and legitimate representative since the beginning of the conflict on February 15 2011.

•    France – 10 March
•    Qatar – 28 March
•    Maldives – 3 April
•    Italy – 4 April
•    Kuwait – 4 April
•    Gambia– 22 April
•    United Kingdom– 12 May
•    Jordan – 24 May
•    Senegal – 28 May
•    Malta – 1 June
•    Spain – 8 June
•    Australia – 9 June
•    United States – 9 June
•    UAE– 12 June
•    Germany – 13 June
•    Canada – 14 June
•    Panama – 14 June
•    Austria – 18 June
•    Turkey – 3 July
•    Denmark – 22 June
•    Poland – 7 July
•    Benelux – 13 July
•    Portugal – 19 July
•   Montenegro – 21 July
•   Gabon – 12 August
•   Tunisia – 21 August



"We believe that within the frameworks of [UN Security Council] Resolutions 1970 and 1973 -- and 1970 as a whole -- it is clear that all means are legitimate for protecting peaceful civilians," Juppe said on Friday in France’s defense.

Is the arms drop legal?

Russian officials called into question the legality of the action under a current UN-approved mandate for Western intervention in the oil-rich North African country. Juppe met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Friday and admitted there were disagreements between the two countries.

"Civilians had been attacked by Gaddafi’s forces and were in an extremely vulnerable situation and that is why medicine, food and also weapons of self-defence were parachuted in," Juppe told France Info radio on Thursday. Juppe also insisted that the air dropping of arms and ammunition fell in line with the mission to defend rebels and protect civilians.

A handful of countries, including NATO allies Italy and Great Britain, have previously warned against using the cover of the UN mandate to provide rebels with arms, saying more guns would put civilians at greater risk and could fall into the hands of anti-Western jihadists.

“Formally [the arms drop] is not a violation of the UN resolutions, but each person can interpret the spirit of the text differently”, said Pierre Conesa, a former French defense ministry official and a professor at the Science Po University in Paris.

Resolution 1970, which the UN passed in February of this year, prohibited states from giving any kind of arms to Libya. Resolution 1973, approved in March, authorised nations "to take all necessary measures” to help protect civilians. Russia abstained from the second vote.

Libyan rebel make progress due to French arms

French daily Le Figaro first reported on Thursday that Libyan rebels have made progress against Gaddafi’s forces to the south of the capital of Tripoli – thanks to an important quantity of arms and ammunition that France parachuted into that region since the beginning of June.

The Associated Press news agency confirmed Le Figaro’s story with the French Army on Thursday.

Lavrov said that France's interpretation of the resolutions presented at Friday's meeting "allows anyone to do anything for any reason".

"It was precisely this paragraph that caused us problems," said Lavrov referring to Russia's abstention from the UN vote in March.

Professor Conesa said it was unlikely Resolution 1973 would be changed over the diplomatic differences between Paris and Moscow, and defended France and NATO’s military action in Libya.

“The Arab League and the African Union have shown themselves incapable of offering a solution to the crisis in Libya. The UN Resolution is the only thing keeping civilians from being massacred,” Conesa said.


Date created : 2011-07-01


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