UK sending military advisers to help Libyan rebels

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2011 10:23 AM
UK sending military advisers to help Libyan rebels

By Adrian Croft

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Tuesday it would send military officers to help Libyan rebels organize, a step likely to anger critics who say the West is abusing a U.N. resolution to use force to protect civilians.

London said it would send officers, believed to number about a dozen, to Libya to advise rebels on how to improve their organization and communications, but would not train them to fight or arm them.

With the Libyan civil war risking getting bogged down in a long stalemate, Western powers are searching for ways to bolster the rebels, whose fighting efforts have been disorganized and lacked leadership.

Peter Bone, a member of parliament from Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party, raised concerns over the move and called for the recall of parliament, on a break, to debate it.

"We are now looking at regime change and we are clearly backing the rebels. We seem to be taking sides in a civil war. That may well be right but it's not for the government to decide, it's for parliament to decide," Bone told Sky News.

RUSSIAN CRITICISM

Russia said Western attempts to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were a violation of a U.N. resolution which only authorized the use of force to protect civilians.

"The U.N. Security Council never aimed to topple the Libyan regime," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Belgrade. "All those who are currently using the U.N. resolution for that aim are violating the U.N. mandate."

In a statement the British Foreign Office said it would expand its diplomatic team in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi with a military liaison advisory team made up of experienced military officers.

"They will advise the (rebel) National Transitional Council (NTC) on how to improve their military organizational structures, communications and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance," it said.

The Foreign Office portrayed the move as part of efforts to protect Libyan civilians and said the deployment was "fully within the terms" of the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya.

That resolution rules out putting a foreign occupation force on Libyan soil.

"Our officers will not be involved in training or arming the opposition's fighting forces. Nor will they be involved in the planning or execution of the NTC's military operations or in the provision of any other form of operational military advice," the Foreign Office said.

The British government has supplied telecommunications equipment and body armor to the NTC but has taken no decision to provide arms, which the rebels are seeking in order to match the firepower of Gaddafi's forces.

Britain has not recognized the NTC as Libya's government but the statement said Britain regarded the council as "legitimate political interlocutors for the UK."

(Additional reporting by Matt Falloon, Olesya Dmitracova and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; edited by Richard Meares)