France said it had airlifted weapons to Libya's rebels this month, the first time one of the NATO countries bombing Libya openly acknowledges arming the insurgents seeking to topple Muammar Kaddafi.
A three-month old bombing campaign has so far failed to dislodge the Libyan leader, straining the Western alliance. The bombing is justified by a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force to protect civilians, but Britain, France and the United States say they will not stop until Gaddafi falls.
A French military spokesman confirmed the delivery of weapons after Le Figaro newspaper cited unnamed sources as saying France had parachuted rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles into the western mountains.
"There were humanitarian drops because the humanitarian situation was worsening and at one point it seemed the security situation was threatening civilians who could not defend themselves," Armed Forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard said.
"France therefore also sent equipment allowing them to defend themselves, comprising light weapons and munitions," he said, adding that the drop also included medicine and food.
Le Figaro said France's decision to send arms had been taken without consulting NATO partners. It quoted a high-level source saying "there was no other way to proceed." (Reuters)