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Gaddafi crisis: Britain may arm Libyan rebels

David Cameron has said Britain is prepared to arm rebels seeking the overthrow of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi.

Government officials even left open the prospect of western land forces being sent as a last resort into Libya to protect civilians, while the European Union imposed an asset freeze and an arms embargo in a bid to tighten the noose on Gaddafi.

In an emergency statement to MPs, the Prime Minister said Britain aimed to persuade “those on the fringes of the regime” to cut their ties with Gaddafi by tightening travel bans and increasing the scope of asset freezes.

Mr Cameron said the international community could not tolerate the “illegitimate” regime using military force on its civilians and he argued that it needed to act if the repression worsened. Following a meeting yesterday of the National Security Council, he said he had instructed military chiefs to work with foreign counterparts on proposals for a no-fly zone.

“We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets. We must not tolerate this regime using military forces against its own people,” he said. “In that context I have asked the Ministry of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone.”

Later, pressed by a Tory MP on whether the Libyan opposition could be supplied with weapons, Mr Cameron replied: “It's certainly something we should be considering.”

Whitehall sources said the no-fly zone plans were being worked upon as a matter of urgency between several western capitals.

Among the options being considered were imposing no-fly zones on all or parts of the country or limiting them to military aircraft.

British jets could be scrambled in from an RAF base in Cyprus to enforce the flight ban.

Later, officials repeatedly refused to rule out the prospect of a land invasion, although military chiefs, still bruised from their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, are bound to be wary of such a dramatic step.

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