Libya: No arms for rebels, UK's Liam Fox says

Libyan rebel holds a national flag beside a burning Gaddafi tank
Image caption Coalition forces have been attacking targets in Libya for a seventh night

Coalition countries attacking targets in Libya will not supply arms to anti-Gaddafi rebels, UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox has told the BBC.

There are reports in the Sunday Times claiming plans to supply weapons to rebels are being drawn up.

But Dr Fox said there was a UN arms embargo across the entire country, adding "we have to accept that".

He also said he hoped final agreement on the handover of Libya operations to Nato would be in place by Sunday night.

Coalition forces have been attacking targets in Libya for a seventh night. They are acting under a UN resolution which authorises military strikes to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone.

Controlling oil

Dr Fox said that thanks to coalition intervention, the rebels now had momentum.

"As they move round the coast, of course, the rebels will increasingly control the exit points of Libya's oil.

"And if they continue to move round that coast from Brega round to Ras Lanuf on the coast it means there will pretty much be in control of all Libya's oil exports.

"That will produce a very different dynamic and a different equilibrium inside Libya."

Since air strikes began, debate has raged about how the crisis will end, with some suggesting the coalition could provide weapons to help fighters overthrow the regime.

But Dr Fox said: "We're not arming the rebels. We're not planning to arm the rebels."

There have been suggestions that Col Muammar Gaddafi himself could be a target, but Dr Fox said the Libyan leader's departure from power was not the aim of coalition involvement.

"It will stop when the regime stops injuring and killing civilians.

"It's hard to imagine they would stop with Gaddafi there, but losing Gaddafi is an aspiration - it's not part of the UN resolution."

But he added: "If Col Gaddafi goes, that, of course, is a bonus."

He also said there "may be other regimes willing to shelter him", but the coalition was not interested in helping to find Col Gaddafi "a safe haven".

Shadow defence secretary Douglas Alexander said he was "not convinced at this stage" that the Libyan rebels should be armed.

"We need to understand these people, and who they are, and their aspirations. It's also important to recognise that we need to be training as well as [providing] arms," he said.

"So I think we need to be looking at other ways, not least humanitarian support, by which we can assist the population."

Mr Alexander said the international community should also do more to cut off Col Gaddafi's access to any profits from Libya's oil exports.

'Major terrorist threat'

Image caption The defence secretary dismissed suggestions that he was being 'frozen out' of decisions about Libya

The defence secretary was also asked about the situation in Yemen, where dozens of civilians have been shot dead in anti-government protests and the regime looks close to collapse.

"Yemen is particularly worrying… because we know that al-Qaeda has been particularly active in Yemen," he said.

"For the Yemen to collapse into instability, for there to be yet another failed state into which al-Qaeda and other elements of transnational terrorism might be drawn, would represent a very potent threat.

"It does represent a major terrorist threat to the UK."

Dr Fox said he was "relatively optimistic" that Nato control would be agreed on Sunday night, and he believed a Canadian general would most likely be given overall control.

He dismissed suggestions in some newspapers about his own position as "tittle-tattle", and denied he was being "frozen out" of decisions on Libya by the prime minister.