France yesterday expelled 14 Libyan diplomats loyal to the government of Muammar Qaddafi, the French foreign ministry said.
France, the US, Britain and others are trying to go beyond a NATO bombing campaign against troops loyal to Qaddafi to find other ways of helping an uprising that prised eastern Libya from his control, but then stalled.
The bombing and imposition of a no-fly zone, both intended to protect civilians, have not prevented scores being killed in government attacks on remaining pockets of rebellion in western Libya, notably the besieged cities of Misrata and Zintan.
Amnesty International said yesterday that indiscriminate attacks on Misrata, including the use of snipers, cluster bombs and artillery in civilian areas, might amount to war crimes.
A French diplomatic source said the decision to expel the 14 Libyan diplomats had been taken some time ago, “but there was a process to follow.”
“Many of these people were using their status as diplomats as a cover,” said the source, who declined to be named.
A coalition of Western and Arab countries agreed on Thursday to provide Libya’s eastern rebels, based in Benghazi, with millions of US -dollars in non-military aid to help them keep services and the economy running, as well as try to topple Qaddafi, in power since 1969.
The rebel Transitional National Council has said it needs up to US$3 billion to keep going in the coming months, and the UN World Food Programme said on Thursday that Libya’s food supplies could run out in six to eight weeks, particularly in the east.
At Thursday’s Libya Contact Group meeting in Rome, Kuwait pledged US$180 million and Qatar promised between US$400 million and US$500 million to the rebels. A US official said the administration was considering unblocking more than US$150 million for humanitarian purposes and France said it was evaluating its contribution.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington would try to change the law to allow it to unlock some of the US$30 billion of Libyan state funds frozen in the US to help the rebels.
However, yesterday Russia warned the group not to try to eclipse the authority of the UN Security Council, which has imposed sanctions on Libya and authorized the use of force specifically to protect civilians.
Qaddafi’s regime reacted angrily yesterday to the decision to provide funding to the three-month-old rebellion against his rule in Libya, describing the plans to tap its assets frozen abroad as “piracy.”
“Libya still, according to the international law, is one sovereign state and any use of the frozen assets, it’s like piracy on the high seas,” Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told a Tripoli news conference.