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Trash Paper Trail Ties China to Arms Transfers to Qaddafi

Documents found by a correspondent in a trash heap shed light on Chinese arms sales to Qaddafi.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 9/7/2011, 7:09 AM

A garbage heap is occasionally the intelligence analyst's mother lode.

A correspondent for the Toronto Globe and Mail came across Arabic documents in a Tripoli neighborhood where the Qaddafi regime elite enjoyed luxurious housing.

The documents revealed that state-controlled Chinese arms companies were prepared to sell weapons to the Qaddafi regime in late July –  after the United Nations imposed sanctions on arms sales – to the tune of $200 million.

The arms offered included the Chinese version of the Stinger missile that could have provided Qaddafi's forces with a counter to the coalition air attacks.

China at first denied that there had been any negotiations, but then fell back to a partial denial admitting that meetings had taken place, but they had been inconclusive and no arms were supplied. Another attempt to parry the charges explained that the arms requested were being held in Algerian military arsenals, allowing for their immediate trans-shipment to Libya.

The last explanation leaves vague the issue of whether this was a three-way deal in which the Libyans paid for Chinese arms that were already in Algeria or whether the deal was transacted bilaterally between the Qaddafi regime and the Algerians.

Algerian-Libyan relations are already strained because Algiers has granted sanctuary to members of the Qaddafi family.

It is notable that both Algeria and Libya have sizable Berber populations and the Berbers played an important role in the fighting against Qaddafi when they emerged from their mountainous terrain to open the road to Tripoli. They now expect greater influence under the new regime and this could spill over to the Algerian Berber population.

The new Libyan regime is generally suspicious of countries that maintained ties to Qaddafi to the end or appeared to favor him.

Regime spokespersons regard the trash intelligence trove as genuine. They claim that during the recent battles they encountered new weaponry that apparently was of Chinese provenance.

Another country that did not disguise its sympathy for Qaddafi is South Africa. South Africa finds itself isolated on the continent. Only Uganda and Zimbabwe have backed South Africa's refusal to recognize the new Libyan government.

Nigeria, while promising to maintain cordial relations with South Africa, has ridiculed Pretoria's argument that any government in Africa should be removed only via a constitutional process. This principle could not be implemented "in isolation of other principles like democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and social justice, among others".

Qaddafi himself came to power via a military coup and never behaved constitutionally. Nigeria also challenged South Africa to explain why it could accept revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and deny the legitimacy of what took place in Libya.

Nigeria is pleased with the overthrow of Qaddafi because he maintained training grounds for many insurgents, including Boko Haram, the Islamic fundamentalists group that has been responsible for many of the recent bombings in Nigeria.