After French daily Le Figaro ran a report saying France was secretly arming Libyan rebels, the French military has admitted that they provided the rebels with ammunition and weapons on several occasions.
The New York Times reports that it marks the first instance of a NATO country providing direct military assistance to the rebel forces fighting against Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
The paper reports:
Col. Thierry Burkhard, a spokesman for the French military, said France responded in early June to a United Nations request, made in May, for a "humanitarian pause" to allow the delivery of essential medical supplies and other relief items to Libyan civilians in the besieged city of Misurata and in the towns and cities of the western mountain region, also under attack from loyalist forces.
"The U.N. request never actually took effect," he said. "So we airdropped water, food and medical supplies" to Misurata and to the Nafusah Mountains south of Tripoli. "During this operation troops also airdropped arms and ammunition several times, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and launchers," he said.
The admission also marks a new limit in the Allied operation in Libya, according to the Washington Post. NATO allies have been careful to limit contact with the rebels and sticking to the mission approved a United Nations resolution. The Post adds:
Arming rebels holds the potential to speed the advance on Tripoli, and in the past week rebel forces have made gains in the mountain area where the weapons were dropped. But some observers worry that such weapons could eventually make their way into the hands of extremists.
The AP reports that the weapons, which were parachuted by air, included "machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and munitions." The AP also talked to one expert, who said the move will no doubt face questions about whether providing weapons is legal under U.N. Resolution 1973, which authorized "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians.