World·Updated

U.K. supplies body armour to Libyan rebels

Britain says it is providing body armour, police uniforms and communications equipment to help Libya's opposition protect rebel leaders and international officials based in the country's eastern cities.

Weapons air-dropped to rebels, France acknowledges

Rebel fighters flash the victory sign as they drive on June 11, in Ajdabiya. Libya's opposition is receiving equipment support from Britain and France. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)

Libya's opposition leader said Thursday that rebels need more weapons and funding, as Britain offered new body armour and uniforms for civilian police officers in the country's eastern cities.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the U.K. was offering 5,000 sets of body armour, 6,650 uniforms, 5,000 high-visibility vests and communications equipment to help police protect rebel leaders and international officials.

But in talks in Vienna, Libya's opposition chief insisted rebels fighting Moammar Gadhafi's forces need more and better weapons to win their conflict and spare more bloodshed.

Foreign deliveries of military hardware would give the rebels a chance to "decide this battle quickly [and] to spill as little blood as possible," said Mahmoud Jibril, of the Transitional National Council.

Weapons air-dropped to rebels by France

Jibril spoke after meeting Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and a day after France acknowledged air-dropping weapons to the rebels.

French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said Wednesday that France had airlifted weapons to Libyan civilians in a mountain region south of Tripoli. The deliveries of guns, rocket-propelled grenades and munitions took place in early June in the western Nafusa mountains, when Gadhafi's troops had encircled civilians.

Britain's government said it believed the French decision to supply weapons fell within the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorizes international action in Libya.

But China questioned whether or not the supplying of weapons contravened the international agreement. Russia too has previously complained about the scope of the NATO-led air campaign in Libya.

"China calls on the international community to strictly follow the spirit of the relevant resolution of the U.N. Security Council and avoid taking any action that goes beyond the mandate of the resolution," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. "We always call for a political resolution to the Libyan crisis so as to restore peace and stability as soon as possible."

China's Premier Wen Jiabao said on Monday in London that nations should seek a political solution to demands for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down after 42 years in power.

Helping the opposition

In London, Hague said the new supplies from Britain would help the opposition protect the growing community of diplomats and aid workers in eastern Libya.

Police will be able to "better protect Transitional National Council representatives and the significant international and NGO communities in Benghazi, Misrata and other areas of Libya" under opposition control, Hague said.

Jibril also warned that unless the opposition council receives large amounts of foreign money, schools will not be able to open later this year. If follows warnings from the rebels that hospitals are also running short on cash and supplies.

Earlier this week, the opposition was handed an initial $100 million in donor money to pay for salaries and fuel. The international contact group on Libya has already pledged to supply more than $1.3 billion for Libya's opposition.

Austrian officials, who asked for anonymity because their information was sensitive, said the government was ready to unfreeze some of the billions of dollars frozen in Austrian accounts and funnel them to the rebels but only after making sure that such a move did not violate laws prohibiting the rights of the account holders, many of them private citizens.

now