Libya fires salvo at Qatar as NATO mulls more air strikes

AFP , Thursday 14 Apr 2011

Libyan regime accuses NATO jointed forces of arming the revolutionaries with anti-tank missiles, while rebels do gain more international support to obtain arms

Firefighters extinguish a fire from burning waste in the city of Benghazi (Photo: Reuters)

Libya accused Qatar of providing rebels seeking to oust Muammar Gaddafi with anti-tank missiles as NATO on Thursday gathered to mull calls for intensified air strikes on the strongman's forces.

"Qatar sent French Milan missiles to the rebels in Benghazi," the eastern city that serves as their base, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told a press conference in Tripoli.

He charged that 20 Qatari experts were also in the city to train some 700 rebels and those elements of the Lebanese group Hezbollah were fighting with the rebels in eastern Libya.

Both Qatar and France are part of the international coalition carrying out a military intervention in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

France and Britain agreed to step up military pressure on Gaddafi's forces after world powers meeting in Doha promised Libya's rebels cash and the means to defend themselves.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed on increased military pressure at a working dinner in Paris ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin beginning Thursday, a source in the French presidency said.

"All means must be made available" in the fight against Gaddafi, the source said, amid efforts by London and Paris to step up pressure on their NATO allies to help defeat his regime.

The diplomatic moves came amid rising friction within the alliance over a NATO air campaign in Libya that has so far failed to change the balance of power on the ground.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Berlin for the meetings Thursday and Friday, issued a statement denouncing what she said were continued attacks on civilians by Gaddafi's forces.

"In recent days, we have received disturbing reports of renewed atrocities conducted by Gaddafi's forces," she said.

After launching the first salvos to protect Libya's population nearly a month ago, Britain and France are pressing their partners to contribute more combat jets to protect the population from Gaddafi's forces.

Only six out of NATO's 28 members are conducting air strikes while French and British warplanes are carrying out half of the flights, a French official said.

The United States has moved into a back-up role in Libya, leaving nearly all the air raids in the hands of its allies.

Mahmoud Jibril, who handles foreign policy for the rebels' Transitional National Council, was expected in Washington to meet with senior State and Defence Department officials as well as with congressional leaders.

"These meetings will allow us to continue to have a better sense of the opposition and the TNC and its vision for Libya," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

In Doha, the international contact group on Libya decided after a daylong gathering Wednesday to set up a "temporary financial mechanism" to aid the rebels seeking to oust Gaddafi.

It "affirmed that Gaddafi's regime has lost all legitimacy and he should leave and allow the Libyan people to decide their future."

While there was a consensus that Gaddafi must go, differences emerged over arming the rebels.

The rebel leadership said in a Tweet: "We’re discussing weapons deals with countries that officially recognised the council; we’ve been getting positive replies."

The meeting's final statement said "participants in the contact group agreed to continue to provide support to the opposition, including material support."

Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani told reporters this refers to "humanitarian means, and also means of defence. And that means that the Libyan people should get the means that they need to defend themselves."

But he seemed to acknowledge that this view was not universally held. He said "people gathered here have different interpretations," while reiterating that "the first thing that the Libyan people need is self-defence."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said "either we make it possible for these people to defend themselves, or we withdraw from our obligation to support defending the population of Libya."

The UN resolution "does not prohibit supplying arms ... for self-defence," Frattini said.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain had been providing non-lethal equipment to the rebels, and would continue to do so.

Belgium expressed opposition to arming the rebels, while Germany insisted that there could be "no military solution."

But Mahmud Shammam, a spokesman for the rebels, indicated that the arms issue does not require consensus. "If needed, we will request (arms) from countries on a bilateral basis."

The final statement said the parties "agreed to set up a temporary financial mechanism to act as a means for the Transitional National Council and international community to manage aid revenues and secure short-term financial needs." It gave no figures.

Shammam said "we will not use this money at all to buy weapons; it will be used for the basic needs of the Libyan people."

Leaders of five of the world's major emerging powers said meanwhile the use of force in Libya and the Arab world should be avoided, at a summit in Sanya, China.

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- which together represent more than 40 percent of the world's population -- said their unusual joint presence on the UN Security Council in 2011 offered an opportunity to work together on Libya.

"We are of the view that all the parties should resolve their differences through peaceful means and dialogue in which the UN and regional organisations should as appropriate play their role," the countries said in the statement.


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