24th Feb 2018

Libya coalition: next step could be arms to rebels

  • The London event saw a number of high-level delegates from Arab countries (Photo: FCO)

Delegates at a London meeting of the anti-Gaddafi coalition have hinted they may start giving weapons to rebels and underlined Arab endorsement of Western bombings.

Speaking at an event entitled The London Conference on Libya in the UK capital on Tuesday (29 March), US secretary of state Hilary Clinton and British foreign minister William Hague said UN Security Council resolution 1973 makes it legal to give guns to rebel forces.

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"It is our interpretation that 1973 amended or over-rode the absolute prohibition of providing arms to anyone in Libya, so there could be a legitimate transfer of arms if a country were to choose to do that," Clinton said.

"We haven't made any decision about arming the rebels, so there was no need to discuss this today. We did discuss non-lethal assistance. We did discuss other means of support ... they obviously are going to need funds to keep them going."

When asked by press on arms transfers, Qatari PM Hamad Bin Jabr Al Thani noted: "We have to find a way to stop this bloodshed. We are still in the first few days of this mission [the no-fly zone] and we will have to evaluate it some days later."

Anti-Gaddafi forces have suffered setbacks in a battle for the town of Sirte since the weekend. But giving out guns poses the risk they could end up in dangerous hands.

Speaking earlier the same day at a hearing in the Senate, US admiral James Stavridis said there are "flickers of intelligence" that fighters from militant Islamist groups al-Qaeda and Hezbollah are taking part in the anti-Gaddafi action.

"We do not have any information about specific individuals from any organisation that are part of this. But of course, we are still getting to know the people leading the Transitional National Council [TNC]," Clinton said in London, after meeting a TNC leader, Mahmood Gebril, in the UK capital earlier in the day.

Clinton and Hague both pointed to a TNC document - A Vision for a Democratic Libya - published on Tuesday as evidence of its credibility. France and the US are also posting ambassadors to the rebel stronghold Benghazi to build relations.

In terms of the next steps in the Libya conflict, Hague gave credence to reports that Italy is in talks with a number of African countries to help find Gaddafi an exit. "We're not engaged in the UK in looking for somewhere for him to go, but that doesn't mean that others are not," the minister said.

In terms of concrete outcomes, the London meeting saw the creation of the 'Libya Contact Group' - a body of top diplomats from around 40 countries and international institutions - which is to give "overall political direction" to Nato's anti-Gaddafi mission and to liaise with the TNC on building a post-Gaddafi Libya. Its first meeting is to be in Qatar, with the chairmanship to rotate.

The meeting also saw Sweden, a non-Nato member, pledge eight Gripen warplanes for use in the no-fly zone.

Most of the London delegates were Nato members. But apart from Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference also sent senior people. The African Union, which has spoken out against the no-fly zone, did not come. A British diplomat put this down to "scheduling problems."

Given the long history of EU countries' imperialist adventures in north Africa, the UK and the US both underlined the importance of Arab endorsement for the campaign.

For his part, Qatar's Al Thani said: "I hope in the future we will not need to ask for outside help ... this is an Arab problem, but unfortunately we could not deal with it ourselves."

He added: "When we saw what we saw in the first few days, we thought it would be shameful to stand on the sideline and to say: 'This is not our business.' This is Arab business. This will be an example of how we can co-operate between us and Nato and the UN. This is the first coalition of its kind and it was demanded by the Arabs."

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