Arm Libya’s rebels, ex-defence secretary urges

By Alex Stevenson

Britain should quicken Muammar Gaddafi's fall from power by arming Libyan rebels, former defence secretary Malcolm Rifkind has called.

The Conservative MP argued that the arms embargo preventing weaponry being provided to insurgents could be bypassed by reference to the UN security council resolution 1973 authorising "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians.

"The French, the Qataris and others have duly provided military supplies to the insurgents, but we have been overly cautious and refused," he wrote in an article for the Telegraph newspaper.

"Now we have recognised the insurgents as the legitimate government, I hope that the prime minister and foreign secretary will reconsider: it would greatly shorten the conflict, and ensure Gaddafi's early departure."

Mr Rifkind said the "ambivalent" American approach to the conflict, and the inability of Nato air power to help rebels fighting in towns and cities, were prolonging Colonel Gaddafi's time in power.

Earlier this week Britain ended its formal diplomatic ties with his regime, transferring them to the Benghazi-based national transitional council.

But western hopes of a swift end to the conflict received another setback with news that the commander of the Libyan rebels' military forces, Abdel Fattah Younes, had been killed.

Disquiet among Conservative backbenchers appears to be growing. Another senior MP, John Redwood, wrote on his blog that "the UK has arguably fought too many wars" and pointed out that there did not appear to be "any great principle" behind when to intervene and when not.

"The cry has gone up that because we cannot intervene everywhere that should not stop us intervening in some cases. I agree," he wrote.

"It would still be wise to examine whether we have intervened too often, and whether in some cases the intervention will not be successful in the longer term."