Libya has agreed a major arms deal with the European aerospace giant EADS, the first since a weapons embargo was lifted on Tripoli in 2004. French Defence Minister Herve Morin confirmed Friday that a letter of intent had been signed for the sale of Milan anti-tank missiles and a radio communications system worth, according to a Libyan official, 296 million euros.
News of the deal came just a week after French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia helped broker the release of six foreign medics, sentenced to life imprisonment in Libya on charges of infecting hundreds of children with the AIDS virus.
Sarkozy has denied France traded the medics' freedom for arms, presenting their release as a French and European diplomatic coup. But Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son, Saif ul-Islam Kadhafi, has said unblocking the medics' case paved the way for the weapons contracts.
On his part, the leader of France's opposition Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, demanded a parliamentary enquiry to decide if the government behaved inappropriately. "If there was no exchange, if there was no bartering, why sign a military agreement with the Kadhafi regime, which has been responsible for terrorist acts, which has been a rogue state?" he asked.
According to AFP, Morin said the missile accord was "an agreement between a company and a country," which was approved in principle by the government of Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac in February 2007. "We have to be clear about this: there is no longer an embargo, Libya is a country that has given up its entire military nuclear programme, and which fully accepts inspections from the IAEA," the UN's atomic watchdog.
"Therefore there is no reason for countries not to engage in discussions on modernising the Libyan army," Morin said. "If it's not us, it will be others. There are a lot of countries in talks with Tripoli: the Italians, the Russians, British...."
He said EADS executives had been in Libya for six weeks to hammer out the details, though he acknowledged that "on arms contracts, the finalisation, the last touch, generally comes via a political act, a visit from the president, or prime minister."