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France's open acknowledgement of arming the Libyan rebels exposes differences of opinion over the interpretation of a U.N. resolution
Russia said on Thursday that France may have violated a U.N. arms embargo on Libya by air-dropping weapons earlier this month to the rebels fighting the regime of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow had asked Paris to explain the arms drop, adding that if the incident is confirmed, it is a "flagrant violation" of a U.N. Security Council resolution, from February, that imposed an arms embargo on Libya, according to VOA.
According to Reuters:
"We asked our French colleagues today whether reports that weapons from France were delivered to Libyan rebels correspond with reality," Lavrov told journalists.
"If this is confirmed, it is a very crude violation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1970, which was adopted by consensus."
Lavrov is due to meet with his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, in Moscow on Friday, BBC News reported.
The African Union had condemned France earlier for arming the rebels, saying that the move could make the entire region more dangerous.
Separately, the French military denied supplying anti-tank missiles to the rebels, though it admitted that it had parachuted light arms to them, after Le Figaro, a French newspaper, and an unidentified source stated that Milan anti-tank missiles and light armored vehicles had been part of the air drop, according to Times Live.
"No Milan anti-tank missiles have been parachuted into Jebel Nafusa," France's top military spokesman Thierry Burkhard, said, referring to a region southeast of Tripoli.
France became the first NATO country on Wednesday to openly acknowledge arming rebels seeking to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who has resisted a three-month NATO campaign, Reuters reported.
Moscow abstained from the U.N. Security Council vote in March that authorized the international mission aimed at protecting Libyan civilians, BBC News said.
Russia and China have both criticized the NATO campaign in recent weeks, saying that it was going beyond the outlines of the March U.N. resolution 1973.
The earlier February resolution 1970 had imposed an arms embargo on Libya.
U.N. resolution 1973 allows NATO nations to protect civilians in Libya, according to the Guardian. NATO has said that it wouldn't arm the rebels because that would be beyond its mandate.
France on Thursday defended its weapons air drops, saying they were a necessary measure to protect civilians. It contested that the March U.N. resolution 1973 had authorized the drops. Article 4 of Resolution 1973 specified that exceptions could be made to the arms embargo if they were in the interest of protecting civilians, according to Times Live.
U.S. and U.K. officials have argued that resolution 1973 could allow weapons to be supplied to the rebels, BBC News said. According to the Guardian, the British ministry of defense said that the U.K. hadn't supplied the Libyan rebels with any weapons. But the Foreign Office said the U.N. resolution could be interpreted in different ways:
"Our position is clear," a spokesman said. "There is an arms embargo in Libya. At the same time, UN resolution 1973 allows all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populations from the threat of attack. We think that the UN resolution allows, in certain limited circumstances, defensive weapons to be provided. But the UK is not engaged in that. Other countries will interpret the resolution in their own way."
It appears that France didn't inform any NATO allies about the arms drops, and NATO is seeking clarification from Paris. NATO is also trying to establish what specific legal basis France had for taking what seems to have been a unilateral action.