LONDON — Libya's opposition leader said Thursday that rebels needed more weapons and funding, as China and Russia raised concern over revelations that France had supplied arms to civilians fighting Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
Mahmoud Jibril, of Libya's Transitional National Council, said foreign deliveries of military hardware would give the rebels a chance to "decide this battle quickly (and) to spill as little blood as possible."
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 insisted that 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 and Russia both questioned whether or not the supplying of weapons contravened the international agreement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his ministry had asked France for further details. "We are awaiting a response. If it is confirmed, it's a flagrant violation," of the resolution, he said.
Russia abstained in the U.N. vote on Libya and has voiced concern about civilian casualties and excessive use of force during the NATO-led air campaign, which began in March.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not mention France by name, but told reporters that nations should not overstep the remit of the U.N. resolutions.
"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," he said.
On Monday in London, China's Premier Wen Jiabao said nations should seek a political solution to demands for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down after 42 years in power.
Jalal el-Gallal, spokesman for Libya's opposition council, insisted France had acted correctly. "China has the right to disagree but the U.N. resolution stipulates whatever means necessary to protect civilians," he said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced Thursday the U.K. was sending 5,000 sets of body armor, 6,650 uniforms, 5,000 high-visibility vests and communications equipment to police officers in rebel-held areas.
He said the new supplies would help Libya's opposition protect civilians and 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.
In Austria, Jibril warned that unless the opposition council receives large amounts of foreign money, schools will not be able to open later this year. It follows warnings from the rebels that hospitals are also running short on cash and supplies.Comment on this story
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.
George Jahn reported from Vienna. David Nowak in Moscow and Rami al-Shaheibi in Benghazi, Libya, contributed to this report.
David Stringer can be reached at http://bit.ly/b2tTK0