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China Sought to Sell Arms to Gaddafi, Documents Suggest

Anne Barnard

In the final weeks of Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi’s battle with Libyan rebels, Chinese state companies offered to sell his government large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition in apparent violation of United Nations sanctions, officials of Libya’s transitional government said Sunday. They cited Gaddafi’s government documents found by a Canadian journalist, which the officials said were authentic.

Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)
Marco Longari

The documents, including a memo from Libyan security officials detailing a shopping trip to Beijing on July 16, appear to show that state-controlled Chinese arms companies offered to sell $200 million worth of rocket launchers, antitank missiles, portable surface-to-air missiles designed to bring down aircraft, and other weapons and munitions. The documents, in Arabic, were posted on Sunday on the Web site of The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper.

The Chinese companies apparently suggested that the arms be delivered through third countries like Algeria or South Africa. Like China, those countries opposed the United Nations authorization of NATO military action against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, but said they supported the arms embargo imposed by an earlier United Nations resolution.

A rebel military spokesman, Abdulrahman Busin, said in an interview on Sunday that the transitional government would seek accountability through appropriate international channels. Mr. Busin said that any country that had violated the sanctions would have poor prospects for business and other dealings with Libya, an oil-rich country.

“We have hard evidence of deals going on between China and Gaddafi’s, and we have all the documents to prove it,” he said, adding that the rebels have other evidence, including documents and weapons found on the battlefield, showing that arms were supplied illegally to Colonel Gaddafi’s  forces by numerous other governments or companies. “I can think of at least 10 off the top of my head,” he said.

Graeme Smith, a reporter for The Globe and Mail, said that the documents his newspaper posted were found by him in the trash in the Bab Akkarah neighborhood, where many Gaddafi’s regime officials lived. They were on the green letterhead of a government procurement department.

State Department, Pentagon and intelligence officials in Washington said Sunday that they were unaware of such dealings and would need more time to analyze the documents. A senior NATO diplomat in Brussels discounted the report as highly unlikely, but said he was not familiar with the documents cited in the article.

Members of the United Nations’ Libya sanctions committee said that nothing about arms dealings with China had been brought to their attention, and noted that France had been accused of air-dropping arms to some rebel units. For their part, rebels argued that the embargo resolution referred specifically to arming the Gaddafi’s government, not them.

As the documents surfaced on Sunday, there were signs that normal life was returning to Tripoli, the Libyan capital. The rebels claimed progress in dealing with water shortages and restoring telephone service.

At the same time, rebel forces massed outside Bani Walid, one of Colonel Gaddafi’s  last remaining strongholds, on Sunday, preparing for a possible assault after the latest negotiations for a peaceful surrender of the town came to nothing.

A rebel negotiator, Abdullah Kanshil, said the talks broke down after Gaddafi’s loyalists insisted that the rebels disarm before entering the town, The Associated Press reported. The rebels have seesawed between claims that an assault on Bani Walid was imminent and that a negotiated settlement was nearly in hand.

In Tripoli, such drama seemed far away. Traffic police in white uniforms directed vehicles, though with a fuel shortage sidelining many cars in long lines at filling stations, the police presence served more to show that government employees were trickling back to work than to deal with the minimal traffic.

The young rebels running checkpoints throughout the city have seemed markedly less tense in recent days. One checkpoint on Sunday was guarded only by the torso of a clothing-store mannequin wearing a reflective yellow safety vest.

Several pharmacies, restaurants and clothing stores could be seen opening on streets where a few days ago every storefront was shut. New billboards urged young supporters of the revolution to write only positive graffiti on walls, not insults to Colonel Gaddafi’s. Celebratory shooting has lessened after officials pleaded with fighters to stop, though one hospital volunteer said she recently saw the body of a 3-year-old girl who was killed by a stray bullet while riding on her grandfather’s shoulders.

Libyan families have ventured out of doors in much greater numbers in recent days, especially on Friday night, when thousands of people went to a main square in the capital, now renamed Martyrs’ Square, to celebrate. Little girls wore their best new dresses, bought for the Id al-Fitr holiday, and flashed the victory sign for family snapshots in front of Libyan flags.

The director of the transitional council’s stabilization team, Aref el-Nayed, said that confidence in the security of the city was growing and that it would not be filled with bands of rebel fighters for long. “None of the groups is intent on staying as armed forces, independent of the national army or the police, and there is consensus on that,” Mr. Nayed told a news conference.

A rebel militiaman stands guard at a Libyan oil refinery in rebel-held territory on February 27, 2011 in Al Brega, Libya. The opposition leadership has stressed that oil faciities in areas under its control are safe, despite the conflict roiling the country.

Still, the United Nations special envoy for Libya, Ian Martin, said in Tripoli that the proliferation of arms in the country was still “a major concern.”

On Sunday, in a series of news conferences, rebel officials listed what they said were signs of improvement, including supplies of bottled water ready to be distributed through mosques, the return of civil servants to their desks and the reopening of banks.

The minister of transportation, Anwar al-Fitouri, said that cellular and local landline phone service was working again in the western mountains, and the education minister, Salim Suleiman Sahli, said that teachers would begin work in one week to start preparing for the new school year. Mr. Sahli said that in areas where fighting had kept the schools closed for months, special textbooks would help students catch up on lessons over an eight-week period.

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a rebel military leader in Tripoli, told reporters that rebels in Bani Walid, the loyalist stronghold southeast of the capital, had raised their flag over the town, and he called on the townspeople to come into the streets and demonstrate their support for the new government. It was not immediately possible to confirm his claim, and battlefield reports from both sides throughout the conflict have been notoriously unreliable.

The town is dominated by the Warfallah tribe, which has long supported Colonel Gaddafi’s, and rebels have speculated that he or his sons might be hiding there. The rebel government said it had confirmed the death of Colonel Gaddafi’s  son Khamis, who has already been reported dead at least twice before without independent confirmation.

CNN reported that another of the colonel’s sons, Saadi, told its correspondent on Sunday that he was just outside Bani Walid, and that he no longer saw any chance of a negotiated surrender of the town. Meanwhile, the colonel’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, who has not been seen since the fall of Tripoli nearly two weeks ago, claimed in a telephone call to Reuters that he was in Bani Walid and that the exhortations of the transitional council “are not being heeded here.”

Mr. Ibrahim said that Colonel Gaddafi’s was still in Libya and was well defended — but he said he did not know exactly where.

Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington, Neil MacFarquhar from New York, Rayan Abu Amr from Tripoli and Bryan Denton from Wadi Dufaan, Libya.