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Russia Accuses Libya of Training Syrian Revolutionaries

Margaret Besheer

Russia has accused Libya of training Syrian opposition fighters in Libyan camps and then sending them back to Syria to attack the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.  Russia’s United Nations ambassador made the charge during a meeting Wednesday of the U.N. Security Council in which the Libyan prime minister participated.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his government had previously expressed concern about the proliferation of Libyan weapons beyond that country’s borders after the fall of the Gadhafi regime last October.  He said now it is no longer just arms that are going abroad.

“We have received information that in Libya, with the support of the authorities, there is a special training center for the Syrian revolutionaries and people are sent to Syria to attack the legal government.  This is completely unacceptable according to all legal bases.  This activity is undermining stability in the Middle East.  We think al-Qaida is in Syria.  And, therefore, there is the issue, should the export of revolution, is that not turning into the export of terrorism?,” Churkin said.

Ambassador Churkin did not detail what information he had that pointed to training centers for the Syrian opposition.

Russia has been especially unhappy with how NATO and the international community implemented Security Council resolutions, mandating the protection of Libyan civilians during the fight for liberation from the 42-year long dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi.

In council discussions of how to proceed in trying to stop the nearly year long government crackdown in Syria, Russia has repeatedly invoked Libya as a bad example and worked to prevent any kind of international interference in Syria.

The Russian envoy also raised Moscow’s concerns about possible civilian casualties caused by the NATO strikes in Libya.  This drew the ire of his American counterpart, Susan Rice, who accused him of raising what she said was this misleading accusation yet again.

"I regret that our Russian colleague has found it necessary to raise this old canard yet again in the Security Council regarding NATO, but since he has, allow me please to respond.  The International Commission of Inquiry on Libya concluded that NATO "conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties," Rice said.

She stressed that NATO cooperated with the inquiry established by the U.N. Human Rights Council and was not found to have committed any violations.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdelrahim El-Keib said his government had conducted its own investigations into possible civilian casualties caused by NATO and had received cooperation from the organization. He appeared satisfied.

But in what appeared to be a direct rebuke to Russia and China for their vetoes against Security Council action on Syria, the prime minister said he hoped Libya would not be used as an excuse any longer to prevent action where it is needed.

"I hope that the reason for raising this matter will not be to impede or prevent the international community from interfering in the situation of other states where their peoples are being massacred and killed at the hands of their rulers," he said.

The United Nations humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, was finally able to enter Syria on Wednesday. She met with the Syrian foreign minister and visited the besieged town of Homs and its hardest hit district, Baba Amr.  Her spokeswoman told VOA that Baba Amr was "completely devastated," the town was deserted, and that gunfire could be heard within earshot of the U.N. delegation.

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