April 13, 2011 / 8:02 PM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 2-France's Sarkozy, Britain's Cameron meet on Libya

* Sarkozy, Cameron meet to reaffirm Libya position

* Meeting comes amid signs of cracks in wider alliance

* Britain to send body armour to Libyan opposition rebels

(Adds French position on arming rebels)

By Yann Le Guernigou

PARIS, April 13 (Reuters) - France does not plan to start arming rebels in Libya, although it does not oppose others doing so, a French presidential source said on Wednesday after Franco-British talks on the deadlock in Libya.

The source, who was present at talks between President Nicolas Sarkozy, Prime Minister David Cameron and their defence ministers, said France did not see the rebel force as sorely needing more arms.

“It doesn’t seem necessary today because the national transition council is not having problems finding the weapons they need and friends to show them how to use them,” he said.

“We are not doing it. And nor are the British as far as I know,” he added. “It’s a decision that’s been taken (not to arm the rebels) but that does not mean we oppose those that do.”

He said the U.N. Security Council resolution authorising force to protect Libyan civilians also permitted arming the rebels “because the best way to protect the population is to allow the Libyans who want to protect them to do so.”

Britain said on Wednesday it would supply 1,000 sets of body armour from surplus British defence supplies to Libyan rebels, on top of 100 satellite phones already sent.

Wednesday’s talks in Paris cemented the Franco-British position in favour of ramping up air strikes on Muammar Gaddafi’s military, amid signs of cracks in the wider coalition.

Sarkozy and Cameron met for dinner the same day coalition foreign ministers met in Qatar to discuss the stalemate in Libya’s civil war, calling for Gaddafi to go.

Western Europe’s top two military powers are delivering most of the air strikes on Gaddafi’s armour and are frustrated at the smaller role played by allies, including the United States.

Three weeks of air strikes have neither tipped the balance of the war in favour of rebels trying to end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule nor ended his shelling of the besieged city of Misrata.

“This is about summing up the situation and making sure France and Britain are on the same page,” another French source said of the Paris meeting, which lasted a couple of hours.

“Given the various proposals for a resolution, the idea is also to get them behind a single one to avoid Gaddafi taking advantage of nuances between the different ideas.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe this week criticised NATO for not doing enough to stop the bombing of Misrata and Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said he regretted the lack of military strikes by partners such as the United States.

“NATO is not able at this time to oblige partners to participate in this action. Like you, I deplore for example the fact that France and Britain are bearing the brunt of this effort, even if the United States is still providing essential aerial back-up,” Longuet told parliament on Tuesday. (Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Peter Graff)

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