France providing weapons to Libya rebels: report
PARIS (Reuters) – France is providing weapons to Libyan rebels in the Western Mountains in an effort to help them push on to Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold in the Libyan capital Tripoli, Le Figaro newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Citing unidentified sources, Le Figaro said France had parachuted “large amounts” of weapons, including rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles into the Jebel Nafusa region.
The decision to send arms without consulting its NATO partners was “because there was no other way to proceed,” a senior source was quoted as saying.
The rebellion against Gaddafi’s 41-year rule has made only slow progress since NATO-led countries began bombing three months ago, but rebels now say they getting closer to Tripoli.
Rebels based in the Western Mountains region southwest of the capital made their biggest breakthrough in weeks on Sunday to reach the town of Bir al-Ghanam, where they are now fighting pro-Gaddafi forces for control.
Officials at the Defense Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment and a Foreign Ministry official said it did not handle operational affairs and could not comment on the report.
Government spokesman Francois Baroin declined to comment.
Le Figaro said it had seen a confidential map stamped by French intelligence services showing various areas in the mountains including Yafran and Nalut under the control of rebels where weapons could be sent.
Speaking after a meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and rebel chief Mahmoud Jibril, National Transitional Council Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam told reporters on Tuesday it had not asked for any further military assistance.
“We are getting our (military) means from other places, ” Shammam said, without elaborating.
Rebels say they have been receiving weapons from Qatar in particular through their bastion in Benghazi in eastern Libya.
Sarkozy has had a close relationship with the rebels since French planes struck first in Libya as part of U.N.-backed mandate to protect civilians.
While intervention on the ground has been ruled out, Sarkozy previously promised to step up air strikes. Earlier in June, French and British helicopters joined operations to give the NATO-led mission more precision targeting and help speed up a military conclusion.
(Reporting by John Irish; Additional reporting by Nicolas Vinocur; Editing by Louise Ireland)
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