UN Security Council Back No-Fly Zone Over Libya

Posted: March 17, 2011 in International, Libya, Middle-East

In a momentous vote that could change the course of a conflict that had seemed close to a devastating end, the United Nations last night authorised military action against forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. The UN Security Council has backed a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” short of an invasion “to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas”. In New York ten of the council’s fifteen members voted in favour of the resolution, while Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstained. Diplomats said preparations for air strikes by coalition forces against multiple targets on the ground and in the air would begin immediately. Early reports had suggested that aerial attacks, led in the first wave by British and French air forces, could begin within hours.

In Benghazi, the main opposition stronghold, a large crowd watching the vote on an outdoor TV projection burst into celebration as green and red fireworks filled the air, even as an artillery barrage from loyalist forces began to hit the city. The resolution came just a few hours after Gaddafi had issued a chilling warning that suggested his determination to break the rebellion would not be broken by the threat of international action. “We are coming tonight,” he said. “Prepare yourselves… we will find you in your closets.” The Libyan leader called pro-democracy fighters in Benghazi “armed gangsters” and urged residents to attack them, saying: “You all go out and cleanse the city of Benghazi. We will track them down, and search for them, alley by alley; road by road … Massive waves of people will be crawling out to rescue the people of Benghazi, who are calling out for help, asking us to rescue them. We should come to their rescue.” That threat was expanded to all those who supported the UN resolution with a statement from the Libyan foreign ministry. “Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger,” the defence ministry declared. “Civilian and military [facilities] will become targets of Libya’s counter-attack. The Mediterranean basin will face danger.”

The resolution demands an immediate ceasefire, an option Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim declared Libya were willing to negotiate. “We are ready for this decision (a ceasefire) but we require an interlocutor to discuss how to implement it,” Kaim told a news conference, continuing to say that Libya would “react positively to the UN resolution, and we will prove this willingness while guaranteeing protection to civilians.” While the resolution authorises a coalition of countries, which will include participation by some Arab nations, to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, it also expressly rules out a “foreign occupation of any form on any part of Libyan territory”. The resolution nonetheless gives military commanders wide leeway to do whatever it takes to break Gaddafi’s grip, including the bombing of his tanks, airstrips and possibly, according to US sources, even his troops. Depending how quickly the action unfolds, last night may thus mark the moment when Gaddafi’s days as leader of Libya were finally and emphatically numbered.

After the vote, British Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated the case for the resolution. “We have said all along that Gaddafi must go,” he said. “It is necessary to take these measures to avoid greater bloodshed, to try to stop… attacks on civilians and the people of Libya.” His US counterpart Hillary Clinton took a similar stance, speaking during a visit to Tunis. “Gaddafi must go,” she said. Calling him a “ruthless dictator,” she added: “If Gaddafi does not go, he will just make trouble. That is just his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.” The US is not expected to provide military back-up initially, although it has an aircraft carrier off the coast. The operation is likely to be mounted from French air force bases in the south of the country – which is less than 1,000 miles from the Libyan coast.

The text of the UN document was supported by 10 countries and was pushed in particular by Britain, the US and France. Five nations however abstained; Brazil, who have a long history of supporting pariah state, China who usually abstains when it disapproves of a resolution, sparing its veto for issues of direct strategic interest. Its authoritarian government is concerned about setting precedents for interfering in a sovereign state, Germany an outspoken critic of the UK-French plans for a no-fly zone, saying it did not want to get sucked into a war, Russia which has its own internal problems and is unwilling to get involved in other countries’ affairs and India who like Germany and Brazil, has no veto on Security Council. Its abstention came even as the US championed its promotion to permanent membership.

 

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