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News, March 2011
NATO Enforces Libyan No-Fly Zone, Civilian Casualties in Tripoli, Fear of Stalemate
March 25, 2011
Fighting's effect on Libya civilians remains murky
By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI Associated Press
Mar 25, 2011,10:38 AM EDT
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) --
Moammar Gadhafi's government accused U.S.-led forces of ignoring civilian casualties on Friday, showing journalists a Tripoli neighborhood that has come under attack for at least two nights. U.S. and British officials insisted civilians have been spared and retort that the Libyan leader has engineered his own atrocities.
At the heart of the dispute is the difficulty separating rhetoric and stage-management from the pain of people who may have lost family, homes and sometimes livelihoods. Or maybe not.
On Friday, Libyan officials took foreign journalists to Tripoli's Tajoura neighborhood, on the outskirts of the city. Two military bases on the way had clearly been hit, their buildings twisted and damaged. Black smoke still rose from one.
The small farm where the bus finally stops was a wreck: The windows were smashed in, the television toppled over. Plaster was everywhere on the floor, but the painted walls were intact. It's the home of Rajab Mohammed, who said the bomb hit at the base of the palm just outside. Next to the palm was a pit, the size of a large beach ball.
"There were bullets everywhere," said Mohammed, struggling to explain the source of bullet holes on the outside of the house.
A U.S. official said ships in the Mediterranean launched 15 more Tomahawk cruise missiles overnight, targeting garrisons near Tripoli. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Airstrikes and missiles are unpredictable, and the Gadhafi government's efforts seem only to muddy the picture. Journalists are taken to the morgue, where bodies are hauled out without identification or circumstances of death.
The U.S. military said coalition jets flew about 150 sorties on Thursday, about 70 of them with American planes.
"I cannot be sure that there have been no civilian casualties. What I can be sure of is that we have been very, very precise and discriminate in our targeting," Army Gen. Carter Ham said late Thursday at a briefing at the Sigonella air base in Sicily.
"They don't talk about the thousands of Libyan citizens which they have killed, which we know it is very true. And I'm sorry if I'm a little emotional about this. The people who are killing civilians are the regime of this current government leader in Libya," Ham said.
On Friday, the British government went farther.
"In fact there are no confirmed civilian casualties so far from the coalition airstrikes, and missile strikes, in all the operations since Saturday. Civilian casualties are being caused solely by the Gadhafi regime," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
Libyan state television showed blackened and mangled bodies that it said were victims of airstrikes in Tripoli. Rebels have accused Gadhafi's forces of taking bodies from the morgue and pretending they were civilian casualties, an allegation bolstered by a U.S. intelligence report.
The report Monday said that a senior Gadhafi aide was told to take bodies from a morgue and place them at the scene of the bomb damage, to be displayed for visiting journalists. A senior U.S. defense official revealed the contents of the intelligence report on condition of anonymity because it was classified secret.
Human Rights Watch's London director Tom Porteus cautioned that even confirmed evidence of civilian deaths did not necessarily mean negligence or malice given the uncertainties of aerial bombardment.
"Just because you've got a civilian body killed in an airstrike, doesn't mean there's been a war crime or even a violation of international humanitarian law," he said. As for coalition officials, he said that they were "clearly bending over backward to say that they're bending over backward to avoid civilian casualties."
Associated Press writers Raphael Satter in London and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
Operations in Libya may last weeks but not months: French FM
PARIS, March 24, 201 (Xinhua) --
Western-led military operations targeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's ground forces could takes weeks but not months, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Thursday.
"They may take days, weeks in my opinion (but) certainly not months," Juppe said.
In remarks published in the right wing daily Le Figaro, Juppe said the air strikes to protect Libyan civilians in rebel-held areas would "continue the necessary time in order to destroy Gaddafi's military capacities which he uses against people."
Earlier, the head of French diplomacy told the local RTL radio that the first part of the coalition air strikes had already been "a success."
The Libyan issue will top the agenda of a working dinner to be held by the European Council on Thursday night in Brussels, which is widely anticipated to discuss the next steps in the military campaign.
France, Britain and the United States have headed a coalition seeking to impose a U.N.-authorized no-fly zone over Libya since Saturday. France proposed a political steering committee to oversee the campaign. It will hold its first meeting next Tuesday in London.
NATO to enforce no-fly zone over Libya, as government confirms civilian deaths in West-led strikes
BEIJING, March 25, 2011 (Xinhua) --
All the 28 NATO member states have formed a consensus on enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, as Turkey, the only Muslim member in NATO, agreed to back the plan Thursday.
Once opposing NATO's military intervention in Libya, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday that "All of Turkey's concerns and demands on the issue have been met."
In a statement issued afterwards, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said "All NATO allies are committed to fulfilling their obligations under the UN resolution. That is why we have decided to assume responsibility for the no-fly zone."
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 last week to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and authorized "all necessary measures," excluding ground troops, to safeguard Libyan civilians.
Rasmussen told CNN Thursday evening that the alliance would take over the command of enforcing the no-fly zone "in a couple of days" from the United States, which has been coordinating the multi-national military operation. But whether NATO will take on a "broader responsibility" is still undecided, he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said later that the United States has agreed to hand over the command of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya to NATO.
"We are taking the next step -- we have agreed along with our NATO allies to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO," Clinton said at the State Department.
Having eliminated the Libyan air defense, U.S. military officials said the campaign has moved to focusing on decimating Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's ground forces, with new attacks targeting fuel depots and local military installations in Tripoli, Libya's capital.
On Thursday night, explosions and anti-aircraft gunfire were again heard in east Tripoli, with at least two loud blasts in the Tajoura area.
The Libyan state television reported that both "civilian and military targets" in Tripoli and Tajoura had come under attack. Earlier, government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said Libya's telecommunications centers and state radio station would be targeted by a new round of air strikes.
Meanwhile, Mussa said nearly 100 civilians have been killed so far in the air strikes launched by major Western powers since Saturday. He urged the United Nations to "stop any kind of action" against "civilian targets" that "affects the everyday life of the Libyan people."
UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he expects the international community to continue to work hard to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage in Libya.
"In all my meetings, public and private, I took special care to stress that action under Resolution 1973 is governed by an over-riding objective -- to save the lives of innocent civilians," Ban said.
"Resolution 1973 also reaffirms Libya's sovereignty and territorial integrity and explicitly foreclosed any 'occupation' of Libyan territory," said Ban, who just returned from a trip to Egypt and Tunisia.
When meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said China has always stressed the priority to protect the civilians in Libya and opposes any military actions that would cause more civilian casualties or a humanitarian disaster.
Lavrov agreed that Western forces' military operation in Libya should not overstep the framework of UN Security Council resolution, and Russia called on the West to keep restraint and protect the civilians.
Meanwhile, Li Baodong, Chinese ambassador to the UN, called upon "all parties concerned to cease fire immediately in order to avoid escalating the conflict and worsening the already tense situation in the region."
Also, European Union (EU) leaders attending a two-day summit Thursday in Brussels called on Arab countries to play a more active role in dealing with the Libyan crisis.
The European Council "emphasized the key role of Arab countries, and particularly the Arab League," in supporting UN Security Council resolutions and in finding a political solution to the Libya crisis, according to an EU statement issued late Thursday night.
Experts see danger ahead for Libya intervention
by Devapriyo Das
COPENHAGEN, March 25, 2011, (Xinhua)--
As a multinational force dominates the skies above Libya, doubts are emerging over the long-term aims and objectives of its mission.
The coalition's air- and sea-launched strikes appear to have crippled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's air defenses, and slowed his troops' advance on opposition strongholds.
Its mandate to intervene in Libya was provided by the U.N. Security Council, which voted last Thursday to enforce a no-fly zone over the country, and take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from attacks by pro-Gaddafi forces.
Now, analysts fear the mission may lose direction and the Libya intervention end in a stalemate.
"The mission has not overstepped the U.N. mandate but I do not think the coalition of the willing has full control of what the next steps are going to be," said Fabrizio Tassinari, an expert on European security issues at the Danish Institute for International Studies, a think-tank.
"What the coalition decides to do next will most likely be outside the U.N. mandate," Tassinari said, adding it might involve using options beyond the no-fly zone.
"It also does not seem clear to me who has control of the political steps that should follow the military operation," he told Xinhua.
While the Libya crisis might have been an opportunity for Europe to present a coordinated foreign policy position, the coalition's members appear to have different expectations of the mission.
France, for instance, chose to unilaterally provide official recognition to Libya's rebel opposition before it was clear who they were or what they represented. Germany abstained from voting for the no-fly zone, saying it interfered with Libya's internal affairs, while the UK and France strongly advocated the no-fly zone.
Denmark, which is contributing six F-16 fighter jets and 132 supporting personnel, was ready to participate once it got a nod from its close ally, the U.S., which also backed a no-fly zone.
Mark Sedgwick, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Aarhus University, said Danish foreign policy had aligned itself closely with the U.S. and the UK in recent years.
"I think we just have to see its participation as a continuation of that policy," he told Xinhua.
In fact, Danish troops are currently also deployed in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, its warships are part of NATO's anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, and the country was militarily involved in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
This list of interventions lends a familiar tone to Denmark's current engagement in Libya, and hints at why the country is involved and what it expects to achieve there.
Analysts warn the intervention also risks ending in a stalemate, where Gaddafi remains in power even though internationally isolated and crippled by the no-fly zone and sanctions.
In such a situation, the country could be informally divided into rebel-held and government controlled territories, thereby defeating the Libyan opposition's original demand that Gaddafi relinquish his 42-year grip on the country.
"It is within the bounds of possibility that we will end up with two Libyas," Sedgwick said.
Lene Espersen, Denmark's Foreign Minister, however, has said the coalition's mission objective is the protection of Libyan civilians, not regime change.
"It should be crystal clear that we are in Libya to ensure that the civilian population is protected, not to bring down Gaddafi," she told journalists, after meeting with EU foreign ministers in Brussels to discuss the EU's engagement with Libya on Monday.
But anticipating the limits of a no-fly zone to dislodge Gaddafi, international sanctions have been imposed, including a freeze on Libyan assets held overseas, a travel ban against the Gaddafi regime's close supporters, and an arms-embargo.
Going by recent experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is conceivable that ground troops could also be deployed at some point under the rhetoric of establishing a democratic system in Libya.
However, the coalition has repeatedly ruled out using ground troops precisely because of how costly and dangerous the previous engagements have proved.
"The chances of the Libyan opposition or rebels wanting that is also small," Sedgwick noted. Indeed, regional analysts say a ground intervention would be regarded by Libyans as a serious affront to the country's sovereignty.
Finally, whether Gaddafi voluntarily steps down or is forced out, it remains unclear who or which institutions might replace him.
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