BEIJING, April 23 (Reuters) - China has warned Britain over plans to send military officers to advise Libyan rebels struggling against the forces of Muammar Gaddafi, saying that Beijing opposes any steps that go beyond the mandate of a United Nations resolution.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei stopped short of directly accusing Britain of violating the U.N. Security Council resolution on the Libyan conflict, but he left no doubt that China is unhappy about Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to send about a dozen officers to Libya to help insurgents improve their fighting capabilities.
"China believes that the United Nations Security Council has primary responsibility for protecting international peace and security, and the various sides should strictly abide by the Security Council mandate in handling matters," Hong said on the Foreign Ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn) late on Friday, in answer to a question about the British decision.
"China disapproves of taking any actions that exceed the mandate of the Security Council," said Hong.
China has now joined Russia in opposing London's decision to send advisers. Both countries are permanent members of the Security Council, and could have used that status to veto the resolution authorising air strikes against the forces of Gaddafi.
But Moscow and Beijing abstained from that vote, letting it go into force, but have since voiced growing misgivings about the Western military campaign in Libya.
Beijing's main fear appears to be that Libya could eventually be carved up into divided states, anathema to China's traditional views about the primacy of sovereignty in resolving security crises.
With the Libyan conflict risking getting bogged down in a stalemate, Western powers are seeking ways to bolster the rebels, whose military campaigns have been disorganised.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday the decision to send military advisers conformed with a United Nations' resolution aimed at protecting Libyan civilians. [ID:nLDE73I1A7]
The leaders of the United States, Britain and France pledged last week to continue the military campaign until Gaddafi leaves power. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Robert Birsel)