Politics

Libya: 'Concerning' Level Of Arms At Large After Conflict, Says Minister

The government has confirmed that the conflict in Libya has led to the mass dispersal of weaponry around the country, with possible implications for security in other parts of the world.

Armed Forces minister Nick Harvey told the Commons Defence Committee: "Undoubtedly this is a major concern for NATO and the National Transitional Council, and frankly for the UN and other countries. There are munitions at large within the Libyan territory on a scale which is concerning.

"Unless we can get this situation under control, the danger of these munitions being dispersed around the world is very real."

Nick Harvey's comments give weight to claims by Human Rights Watch that large amounts of weaponry has been on sale near Sirte, having been abandoned by pro-Gaddafi forces.

Lieutenant General Richard Barrons from the Ministry of Defence told MPs there was evidence small arms had been dispersed around the country, and were in the hands of various militia.

However General Barrons said the chemical weapons which Gaddafi had been stockpiling were safe. "They are currently under control," he said. "A very close eye was kept on them."

The minister and defence chiefs were speaking as part of the Defence Committee's call for evidence on assessing the Libyan operation as a whole. The government has launched a separate 'lessons learned' inquiry, but Nick Harvey told MPs that the NATO operations in Libya "should be judged a success by any measure, we don't think anything went conspicuously badly."

When asked how the Libyan campaign fitted in with the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), Nick Harvey said "I think it was always clear that it was at most a medium scale operation," before later appearing to downsize his assessment of Libya by saying: "This fitted the description of a 'smaller scale' operation. There is capacity for one medium scale and one smaller scale operation."

However Harvey added that he hoped the next SDSR would not be conducted at the same time as a more broad government Comprehensive Spending Review, "and as such hopefully at a slightly different pace."

On the killing of Gaddafi, both the minister and his defence chiefs insisted that nobody had been aware that the deposed dictator had been in a convoy which was bombed by a US drone, the event which triggered his capture by rebel forces.

Nick Harvey said Gaddafi's killing should be investigated, but said he didn't think the manner in which he died was typical of National Transitional Council behaviour. He told MPs that he believed the NTC had behaved well. "The performance of the NTC has exceeded expectations. There was a fear there would be similar scenes to those we have seen elsewhere."

"When the forces of the NTC went into Sirte they showed considerable restraint," he said. "So far, so good."