NATO will not arm Libyan opposition: Rasmussen

NATO Sec Gen Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO won`t arm Libyan rebels.

Updated: Mar 31, 2011, 21:10 PM IST

Stockholm/Brussels: NATO will not arm opposition forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday during a visit to Sweden.

"As far as NATO is concerned, and I speak on behalf of NATO, we will focus on the enforcement of the arms embargo," Rasmussen said after talks with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

"The purpose of an arms embargo is to stop the flow of weapons into Libya," he said. "We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm people."

Rasmussen told reporters he had "taken note of the ongoing discussions in a number of countries" concerning the arming of rebels, but said NATO`s focus was on "protecting civilians".

His visit to Stockholm came on the day that NATO formally took full control of air strike operations against Libya.

"On Thursday morning at 0600 GMT, NATO took sole command of international air operations over Libya," Rasmussen said in a statement.

Until Thursday, military action designed to protect Libyan civilians had been carried out by an impromptu coalition coordinated by the US, with Britain and France playing leading roles.

"In line with the mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, NATO`s focus is on protecting civilians and civilian-populated areas against the threat of attack," Rasmussen said.

While in Stockholm, he welcomed Sweden`s offer to contribute eight JAS Gripen fighter jets to the overall operation.

The Swedish parliament has yet to give its final approval, but Reinfeldt said there was broad support for the move.

Sweden is not a member of NATO.