Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi suffered a major blow with the defection of Libyan Foreign Minister, Mussa Kussa as his forces yesterday bombarded rebels and NATO ruled out sending them arms.
Reporters said running battles raged yesterday on the edge of Brega, with Qaddafi’s forces shelling the insurgents, who returned fire with Grad rockets and rocket-propelled grenades.
The fighting came a day after Qaddafi’s forces overran Ras Lanuf and Uqayla, scattering the rebels and pushing them back to a point just east of Brega, an oil refinery town 800km from Tripoli.
As a debate raged over whether Western powers should arm the insurgents, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Stockholm such a move was beyond the scope of the alliance.
“We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm people,” Rasmussen told reporters.
“As far as NATO is concerned, and I speak on behalf of NATO, we will focus on the enforcement of the arms embargo and the clear purpose of an arms embargo is to stop the flow of weapons into the country,” he said, hours after NATO took full command of all Libyan operations early yesterday.
France, which on Tuesday had indicated it was ready to discuss sending arms shipments to the insurgents, yesterday ruled out such a step, saying it is not compatible with a UN resolution on the conflict.
“Such assistance is not on the agenda because it is not compatible with resolution 1973,” the UN Security Council Resolution that authorized UN members to intervene to protect civilians, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet told reporters in Paris.
The defection of Kussa, the most senior figure to jump ship since the uprising against Qaddafi’s rule erupted, was widely seen yesterday as an indication that the regime is crumbling.
Kussa arrived at Farnborough Airfield, west of London, on Wednesday, a British Foreign Office statement said.
“He travelled here under his own free will. He has told us that he is resigning his post,” it said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that Kussa, who has been blamed for atrocities including the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, had not been offered immunity from prosecution.
“Mussa Kussa is not being offered any immunity from British or international justice,” Hague said.