Britain has decided against supplying arms to Libyan rebels, Cabinet officials announced Wednesday, marking a divide between London and Paris in the three-month civil war to topple Libyan strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
“Britain is not considering supplying arms to the opposition in Libya,” said Gerald Howarth, minister for international security strategy. “We think that it does raise quite a few issues.”
France, a NATO member along with Britain, has been providing weapons to Libyans located in the western mountains of the country via airdrops over the past month.
Mr. Howarth said that the resolution passed by the United Nations on Libya was broad and might legally allow France’s actions, but providing rebels with arms “is not something that we should be doing.”
The airdrops, confirmed on Wednesday by the French military, have been unilateral actions, with none of the other NATO countries participating in the actions.
“We are not engaged in this kind of activity,” said Italian Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, chairman of NATO’s military chiefs.
“It is not up to me to comment or to judge,” he added, referring to the French aid.
Col. Thierry Burkhard, a spokesman of the French military, confirmed reports that French forces had dropped supplies in the Nafusa Mountains.
“The humanitarian situation was worsening, and, at one point, it seemed the security situation was threatening civilians who could not defend themselves,” he said.
In addition to food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies, Col. Burkhard said the airdrops contained assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and launchers.
Col. Burkhard denied reports from French news sources that larger weapons, such as antitank weapons, had been given to the rebels.
On Tuesday, Libyan rebels in the region captured the Ghaaa military base, which holds one of the largest weapons caches in the country. The materiel captured on the base ranged from machine-gun ammunition to parts of Cold-War era Scud missiles.
France has been one of the most active NATO members in the effort in Libya. France was the first nation to recognize the rebel provisional council as the legitimate government of Libya. French President Nicholas Sarkozy recognized the rebel government on March 10, 10 days before military operations began against Col. Gadhafi.
Paris hosted a war conference on March 20, with French jets being the first to fly over Libya. France also fired the first shots against the Libyan forces, destroying several government tanks moving towards the rebel capital of Benghazi.
Britain recognized the provisional government on March 10 and has also contributed jets and supplies to NATO’s efforts to sustain a no-fly zone over Libya and to protect Libyan citizens.
The weapons provided by the French are not the only weapons available to rebels in the Nafusa Mountains.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.