Libya PM ‘Not Aware’ of Arming, Training Syria Rebels - Reuters -
Libya’s prime minister on Thursday denied Russian accusations that his country was running camps to train and arm Syrian rebels but expressed strong support for Syrians “who are raising their voice asking for freedom.”
Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib, speaking to reporters after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, said his country had been the first to recognize Syria’s national opposition council.
“We did it because we felt that the Syrian cause is a good cause. It’s people who are raising their voice asking for freedom,” El-Keib said.
“As far as training camps, unless this is something that is done without government permission, which I doubt, I am not aware of any.”
A senior U.S. official later said he believed El-Keib’s comments had firmly denied the existence of any such training camps.
On Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations accused Libya of establishing a special training center for Syrian rebels and arming fighters in their battle to overthrow the country’s president Bashar al-Assad.
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the U.N. Security Council that Russia had information that Libya was actively supporting the Syrian rebel effort, which he said was completely unacceptable and undermining the stability of the Middle East.
Russia, which is Syria’s main arms supplier and has use of a naval base there, also has repeatedly voiced anger over NATO air strikes that helped Libyan rebels drive Muammar Gaddafi from power last year.
It also has blocked U.S.- and Arab-backed initiatives at the United Nations calling for Assad to step aside, saying it wanted a more balanced approach.
Libya said last month that it would donate $100 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian opposition and allow them to open an office in Tripoli.
BUILDING A UNIFIED FRONT
Clinton, in her remarks, praised Libya’s progress in building democracy and said Syria’s opposition could learn from the Libyan example in mustering a coordinated, unified front to face down a tyrant.
“We are working closely with the Syrian opposition to try to assist them to be able to present that kind of unified front and resolve that I know they feel on their own behalf is essential in this struggle against the brutal Assad regime,” she said.
The Obama administration, facing growing calls for stronger action on Syria, is working to build an international coalition to assist Syria’s opposition but has rejected military intervention of the kind that occurred in Libya.