France admits it armed Libyan rebels
France's admission Wednesday that it provided weapons to Libyan rebels renews debate on the legality and wisdom of arming rebels in conflicts whose outcome is unpredictable.
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The weapons were dropped in the Nufusa Mountains in western Libya, where rebel fighters were under siege from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's forces. France intended to drop only humanitarian supplies such as water, food, and medicine. But the situation worsened, “So France also dropped equipment that allowed them to defend themselves — self-defense assets — which is to say weapons and munitions,’’ said French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard, according to AP.Skip to next paragraph
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The top commander of the rebel forces, who says he is in constant contact with the fighters in the mountains, denies receiving any weapons, the Los Angeles Times reports. He suggested that France may be lying about the weapons drop as part of its "psychological warfare" against Qaddafi. "They're fighting more of an information war," he said. "They need to fight Kadafi."
The disclosure came after French newspaper Le Figaro reported that France provided the rebels with large numbers of weapons, including "rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank missiles." The government sought to correct the record, claiming that only "light munitions and weapons" were provided, the Financial Times reports.
Some Nato officials said France’s admission that it was supplying arms could lead to debate inside Nato over whether more should be done on this scale.
“There are many people who think the time has come to get serious,” said an official at Nato headquarters in Brussels. “The fact that the French are prepared to let the news media know they are doing this kind of thing reflects that.”
On Thursday, the African Union condemned the weapons drop, saying that putting more arms in the region increases the chances of future violence. "The risk of civil war, risk of partition of the country, the risk of Somalia-sation of the country, risk of having arms everywhere... with terrorism," said African Union Commission Chief Jean Ping, according to the BBC. "These risks will concern the neighbouring countries."