Britain sends telecoms equipment to Libyan rebels

AP News
Posted: Apr 04, 2011 8:03 PM
Britain sends telecoms equipment to Libyan rebels

Britain has announced it will supply communications equipment to Libyan rebels to help them withstand attacks by Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

Foreign Secretary William Hague also told the House of Commons on Monday that the United Nations and the European Union may consider dropping sanctions against some members of Gadhafi's regime if they abandon their support for the Libyan dictator. It was unclear if the offer could extend to Gadhafi's family, many of whom face sanctions.

Hague said the EU would open talks this week on lifting restrictions imposed on Moussa Koussa, the former Libyan foreign minister, who fled Tripoli and arrived in Britain on Wednesday _ a decision that may anger family members of the Lockerbie bombing victims.

It wasn't immediately clear what restrictions on Koussa could be lifted _ he is still being questioned by British intelligence and government officials _ but the U.N. and the 27-member EU bloc have imposed restrictions including asset freezes and visa bans against individuals tied to Gadhafi's regime.

Hague said no member of Gadhafi's inner circle would be offered immunity from prosecution for past crimes.

"In the case of anyone currently sanctioned by the EU and U.N. who breaks definitively with the regime, we will discuss with our partners the merits of removing the restrictions that currently apply," Hague said. "Sanctions are designed to change behavior and it is therefore right that they are adjusted when new circumstances arise."

Hague told lawmakers that Britain had responded to a request for telecommunications equipment from rebel leaders in Libya following a new round of meetings in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. He said his own attempts to talk with the rebels had been hampered by their poor communications equipment.

He refused to disclose the exact details of the equipment Britain is supplying, but insisted it was not designed to help with the international missile strikes, or to guide weapons used by the rebels.

Like the U.S., Britain has suggested it could also supply weapons to rebel forces in some circumstances _ despite a U.N. arms embargo covering Libya.

Hague confirmed that government officials have encouraged Koussa to answer questions from Scottish police and prosecutors over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people _ most of them Americans.

Prosecutors were meeting with the foreign ministry in London to discuss gaining access to Koussa, who is being debriefed at an undisclosed location in England. They expect to arrange a meeting with Koussa in the next few days.

Hague said Koussa is voluntarily talking to British officials.

"He is not detained, he is not under arrest, he is free to go where he wishes," Hague said.

British officials have declined repeated requests to comment on the information Koussa is supplying in the talks, saying the discussions are too sensitive.

Noman Benotman, an ex-member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who has renounced violence and is a relative of Koussa, described the talks as "very difficult."

Still, he said Koussa hasn't asked for a lawyer. "He hasn't been arrested or formally charged with anything yet," he said.

Hague said British officials were also urging Koussa to cooperate with requests for interviews on "other issues stemming from Libya's past sponsorship of terrorism." Families of those killed when a French plane was blown up in 1989 over Niger _ killing all 170 people aboard _ want Koussa to be questioned by French authorities.

Hague said Koussa had been advised to seek legal representation if it becomes necessary.

He also confirmed he would attend the first meeting of the new international contact group on Libya in Qatar next week, but did not specify the exact date. The group was set up to provide political oversight to the NATO-led military operation and humanitarian assistance in Libya.

African Union chairman Jean Ping held talks with Hague in London earlier Monday to discuss Libya and the crisis in the Ivory Coast.


Paisley Dodds in London contributed to this report