UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia demanded Wednesday that NATO apologize for civilian casualties during the uprising in Libya last year and accused the Libyan government of supporting a training center for Syrian rebels, provoking a sharp response from the U.S. and Libya's prime minister.
The sparring was another indication of how deeply divided the international community remains over the turmoil in the Middle East, particularly the bloody uprising in Syria.
Russia and China have accused NATO of overstepping its Security Council mandate to protect civilians in Libya during the uprising last year, and have strongly opposed any similar action in Syria.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country has received information that "a special training center for Syrian revolutionaries" has been established in Libya with support from government authorities.
He did not elaborate but expressed concern about "the uncontrolled proliferation of Libyan arms in the region" and said training fighters to attack Syria's government was undermining stability in the Middle East.
Churkin said he wanted to the raise the issues in the presence of Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib, who moments earlier had addressed the U.N. Security Council on the challenges Libya is facing after ending Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year dictatorship.
Responding to Churkin's accusations, el-Keib said that a matter "which concerns the blood of Libyans should not be a matter of political propaganda by any country against other countries."
"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," el-Keib said, clearly referring to Syria.
The Libyan prime minister did not address Churkin's claim about the training center for Syrian rebels. However, earlier Wednesday at the International Peace Institute, el-Keib said Libya was financially supporting Syria's opposition.
He said the situation in Syria "is definitely analogous" to last year's uprising in Libya and urged the world to help the Syrian people "obtain their freedom."
El-Keib stopped short of calling for a NATO intervention similar to the one that helped oust Gadhafi, saying it is not up to Libya to tell the world what to do about the crisis.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, meanwhile, defended NATO's actions in Libya and criticized Russia for again raising "this old canard." She quoted an international commission of inquiry on Libya, which concluded that NATO "conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties."
However, China's deputy ambassador, Wang Min, noted that the commission also said NATO airstrikes caused civilian casualties and again called for a U.N. investigation.
Churkin went further saying: "We expect that NATO will recognize the existence of civilian casualties, will excuse itself and say that it is prepared to pay the appropriate compensation."