TRIPOLI— From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Sep. 05, 2011 8:03PM EDT
Last updated Monday, Sep. 05, 2011 8:05PM EDT
Tensions are growing between China and Libya’s new government after revelations that Chinese weapons manufacturers met recently with a delegation sent by Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, despite a UN resolution banning military assistance to his regime.
In an unusually frank response, China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed reporting by The Globe and Mail that Col. Gadhafi’s envoys travelled to Beijing in mid-July and held meetings with state-controlled arms makers. But the ministry insisted that those talks did not result in any signed deals or weapons deliveries. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman even suggested that Col. Gadhafi’s men had operated clandestinely inside China, somehow arranging to meet representatives from three Chinese weapons manufacturers without official permission.
“The truth of Algeria’s behaviour will be revealed,” Mr. Medelci said.
A possible justification for any state caught supplying weapons to Col. Gadhafi would be that NATO, and other sponsors of the Libyan rebels, were funnelling arms to the opposite side of the conflict. Trucks filled with war supplies rolled across the Egyptian border for rebels in the east, and France confirmed that it dropped weapons – including Milan anti-tank missiles – into the hands of rebels in the mountains of the western front.
Those supplies for the rebels were not prohibited by Resolution 1970, however; the embargo referred specifically to the “Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” or Libyan government.
“About the ‘Oh, NATO did it too!’ defence, I don’t think it holds,” said Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a defence think tank.
Arms embargoes are usually monitored by panels of experts appointed by the United Nations. George Lopez, a professor at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies who recently served on such a panel, said that proof of a violation typically requires a bill of lading or other documentation to show that weapons changed hands.
If anybody strikes a deal that breaks the rules, however, it may also qualify as a sanctions violation.
“The willingness to assent to the deal is all that is needed,” Mr. Lopez said.
Given the difficulty of punishing UN embargo breaches, it seems likely that the more important consequences for the countries involved – China and Algeria in particular – will be their tarnished reputations in Tripoli.
Now that Col. Gadhafi has lost power, the Chinese appear to fear, with some justification, that they could lose their foothold in the Libyan oil fields.
“Oil is a basis for war, and oil was the fundamental interest behind the war,” wrote the Chinese media group Caixin in a recent commentary.
A senior official at the Arabian Gulf Oil Co., in Benghazi, told The Globe and Mail last month that he would be reluctant to do business with Chinese companies in future because of their government’s stand against the rebellion.
While a diplomatic quarrel between China and Libya may have significant economic implications, the tensions along the Algerian border may prove more troublesome from a security standpoint. Many Libyans already feel outraged by the fact that Col. Gadhafi’s wife and three children escaped into Algeria last week, and a rebel commander suggested that his men might pursue them into Algerian territory.
At the beginning of the uprising, rebels used radar installations at Benina Airport, near Benghazi, to track suspicious aircraft travelling between Algeria and the loyalist strongholds of Sabha and Surt. They recorded details for several flights by giant C-130 Hercules and Ilyushin Il-76 transport planes, bearing registration codes used by the Algerian military.
“Now we know what was inside those planes,” said Mohammed Sayeh, a member of the National Transitional Council. “That is why it took the Libyan people such a long time to get rid of the dictator, because they were fighting against the mercenaries and machinery provided by our neighbours.”
The new leadership in Tripoli seems acutely aware, however, that Libya needs peace with the neighbours during this shaky moment of transition. Having seized control of the capital, the rebels have not yet secured some of the remote desert towns that remain dangerously close to the Algerian border. Even while criticizing Algiers for its role in the war, Mr. Hariri referred to the Algerians as “brothers;” Mr. Sayeh emphasized that the new government must forge good relations with all countries, regardless of their history.
“We will start a new era,” Mr. Sayeh said. “We will forgive them, but we will not forget.”
Battle-hardened fighters seem less inclined to forgive. The authoritarian regime in Algiers now finds itself uncomfortably close to two North African countries that have overthrown their dictators, which could offer staging grounds for dissidents. Salaheldin Badi, a former pilot who commands one of the Misrata brigades that rushed into Tripoli last month, hinted that his men might be willing to let their revolutionary fervour spill across the border.
“Algeria played an important role, helping Gadhafi get his Chinese weapons,” Mr. Badi said. “That’s okay,” he added, with a mischievous grin, “because we will send weapons back for the revolutions in their countries.”