France confirms arms drops to Libya rebels

The air drops are designed to help rebel fighters encircle Tripoli and encourage a popular revolt.

Paris: The French military
on Wednesday confirmed that earlier this month it had air dropped
arms shipments to Libyan rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi`s
forces in the highlands south of Tripoli.

The NATO military operation in Libya was launched
under a UN Security Council resolution authorising world
powers to take action to "protect civilians" and this was the
first time France has admitted arming rebels.

The Le Figaro newspaper and a well-placed
non-government source said that France had dropped several
tonnes of arms including Milan anti-tank rockets and light
armoured vehicles to the revolt.

But Colonel Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the
French general staff, told AFP that the shipments were
essentially of "light arms" such as assault rifles to help
civilian communities protect themselves from regime troops.

Mahmud Shamman, a spokesman for the rebel National
Transitional Council, the revolutionary high command, visiting
Paris, told reporters he could not comment on the reported
arms shipments.

Burkhard said France had become aware in early June
that rebel-held Berber villages in the Djebel Nafusa highland
region south of the capital had come under pressure from the
Libyan strongman`s loyalist forces.

"We began by dropping humanitarian aid: food, water
and medical supplies," he said. "During the operation, the
situation for the civilians on the ground worsened. We dropped
arms and means of self-defence, mainly ammunition."


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