PARIS -- France acknowledged Wednesday that it airlifted weapons to Libyan civilians fighting Moammar Gadhafi's forces in a besieged mountain region south of Tripoli, becoming the first NATO country to do so in a major escalation in the international campaign.

The bold move was likely to draw criticism from countries leery of the allied use of force in Libya's civil war -- like China and Russia.

The deliveries of guns, rocket-propelled grenades and munitions took place in early June in the western Nafusa mountains, when Gadhafi's troops had encircled civilians and his government refused a United Nations request for a pause in the fighting, French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said.

The weapons were parachuted in by a military transport plane, he said.

The impact of the airlifted weapons wasn't immediately clear. But in recent days -- since the delivery -- rebels in the mountains claimed to have advanced to the town of Bir al-Ghanam, about 50 miles from Tripoli. -- AP

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