UK expels 5 Libyan diplomats over Gaddafi links

AP , Wednesday 30 Mar 2011

British Foreign Secretary William Hague orders Libyan officials loyal to Gaddafi to leave out of fear for British security

Britain says it has expelled five Libyan diplomats loyal to Moammar Gadhafi's regime because of their intimidation of opposition supporters and their potential threat to the U.K.'s national security.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons he had ordered the officials -- including the country's military attache -- to leave following concerns about their actions in Britain.

"The government also judged that, were these individuals to remain in Britain, they could pose a threat to our security," Hague told lawmakers Wednesday.

British officials said the Libyan diplomats were regarded as the leading supporters of Gadhafi at the London embassy, and had been involved in attempts to harass supporters of the Libyan opposition in Britain.

Hague also confirmed that British diplomats have held talks in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi with opposition figures in recent days, ahead of similar meetings being held by U.S. and French officials.

"The purpose of the mission was to meet key Libyan opposition groups in eastern Libya, including the Interim Transitional National Council and its military council, to gain a greater insight into political and security situation," he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking ahead of Hague's statement, confirmed Britain believes there is a legal loophole to allow nations to supply weapons to Libya's rebels -- but stressed the U.K. has not decided whether it will offer assistance to the rebels.

Cameron told lawmakers that his legal advice was clear that, under the U.N. Security Council resolution, weapons could be handed to opposition fighters in some limited circumstances.

"We do not rule it out, but we have not taken any decision," on whether to supply equipment, he told the House of Commons.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told an international summit on Libya in London on Tuesday that the U.N. resolution would allow nations to circumvent a current arms embargo.

Cameron's office acknowledged that aside from the legal issue, there could be some practical problems involved in supplying arms. Under the U.N. resolution, nations supplying weapons would need to be satisfied they would be used only to defend civilians -- not to take the offensive to Gadhafi's forces.

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