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Friday, 18 March 2011

Libya Calls Cease-Fire

Libya Calls Cease-Fire After Britain and France Vow Action

Hours after the United Nations Security Council voted to
authorize military action and a no-fly zone, Libya executed a remarkable
about-face on Friday, saying it would call an “immediate cease-fire and the
stoppage of all military operations” against rebels seeking the ouster of Col.
Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The announcement came from Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa
after Western powers said they were preparing imminent airstrikes to prevent
Libyan forces from launching a threatened final assault on the rebels’ eastern
stronghold in Benghazi.

It was unclear what effect a cease-fire, if honoured, might
have, but the offer drew some scepticism in the West. Prime Minister David
Cameron told the BBC of Colonel Qaddafi: “We will judge him by his actions, not
his words.”

Mr Cameron told the House of Commons that the British Air
Force would deploy Tornado jets and Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes, “as well as
air-to-air refuelling and surveillance aircraft.”

“Preparations to deploy these have already started, and in
the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can take the
necessary action," Mr Cameron said.

France reacted cautiously to the Libyan announcement.
Colonel Qaddafi “begins to be afraid, but on the ground, the threat hasn’t
changed,” the French foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, said Friday.
“We have to be very cautious.”

Earlier, François Baroin, a French government spokesman,
told RTL radio that airstrikes would come “rapidly,” perhaps within hours,
after the United Nations resolution late Thursday authorized “all necessary
measures” to impose a no-fly zone.

But he insisted the military action was “not an occupation
of Libyan territory.”

Rather, it was designed to protect the Libyan people and
“allow them to go all the way in their drive, which means bringing down the
Qaddafi regime.”

Other French officials said that Mr Baroin was speaking to
heighten the warning to Colonel Qaddafi, and that in fact any military action
was not that imminent, but was still being coordinated with allies like Britain
and the United States.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Mr Cameron will
attend a meeting in Paris on Saturday with European, European Union, African
Union and Arab League officials to discuss Libya, the Elysee announced.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations will also participate, his
office said.

Apparently pulling back from the increasingly bellicose
statements as recently as Thursday from Colonel Qaddafi and his son Seif
al-Islam, Mr Koussa — his hands shaking as he read a statement at a news
conference Friday afternoon — said that the Qaddafi government would comply
with the United Nations resolution by halting combat operations.

“Libya has decided an immediate cease-fire and the stoppage
of all military operations,” Mr Koussa said. He did not take questions.

It was not immediately possible to confirm that military
action had ceased either on the eastern front or around the besieged rebel-held
city of Misurata in the west. Mr Koussa did not say whether the Libyan
government intended to restore water, electricity and telecommunications to

Mr Koussa said he expressed “our sadness” that the
imposition of a no-fly zone would also stop commercial and civilian aircraft,
saying such measures “will have a negative impact on the general life of the
Libyan people.”

And he called it “strange and unreasonable” that the
resolution authorized the use of force against the Qaddafi government, “and
there are signs that this may indeed take place.” Mr Koussa called the
resolution a violation of Libyan sovereignty as well as of the United Nations
charter, and repeated a call for a “fact-finding mission” to evaluate the
situation on the ground.

Shortly before Mr Koussa spoke in Tripoli, Mr Cameron told
Parliament in London that Britain, a leading backer of the no-fly resolution,
had begun the preparations to deploy Tornado and Typhoon warplanes along with
aerial refuelling and surveillance aircraft. He said the planes would move “in
the coming hours” to bases where they could start implementing the no-fly zone.

“This is about protecting the Libyan people and saving
lives,” the prime minister said. “The world has watched Qaddafi brutally
crushing his own people. We expect brutal attacks. Qaddafi is preparing for a
violent assault on Benghazi.”

“Any decision to put the men and women of our armed forces
into harm’s way should only be taken when absolutely necessary,” he said. “But
I believe that we cannot stand back and let a dictator whose people have
rejected him kill his people indiscriminately. To do so would send a chilling
signal to others.”

“The clock is now ticking,” Mr Cameron said. “We need a
sense of urgency because we don’t want to see a bloodbath in Benghazi.”
Responding to criticism from parliamentarians about getting Britain involved
militarily, Mr Cameron retorted: “To pass a resolution like this and then just
stand back and hope someone in the region would enforce it is wrong.”

Mr Cameron indicated that a statement would be issued before
Saturday’s meeting in Paris, “to tell Qaddafi what is expected.”

Before the ceasefire was announced, the Libyan leader had
already signalled his intentions in Benghazi.

“We will come house by house, room by room. It’s over. The
issue has been decided,” Colonel Qaddafi said Thursday on a radio call-in show
before the United Nations vote. To those who continued to resist, he vowed: “We
will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.”

In a television broadcast later, he added: “The world is
crazy, and we will be crazy, too.”

Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, which
had supported the no-fly proposal, told Reuters on Friday: “‘the goal is to
protect civilians first of all, and not to invade or occupy.”

Before Mr Koussa’s announcement, forces loyal to Colonel
Qaddafi unleashed a barrage of fire against Misurata in the west, news reports
said, while his son Seif al-Islam was quoted as saying government forces would
encircle Benghazi in the east. Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic control
agency, said in Brussels on Friday that Libya had closed its airspace. It was
not immediately clear whether loyalist troops had begun honouring the

The Security Council vote seemed to have divided Europeans,
with Germany saying it would not participate while Norway was reported as
saying it would. In the region, Turkey was reported to have registered
opposition, but Qatar said it would support the operation. In Tripoli,
government minders told journalists on Friday that they could not leave their
hotel for their own safety, saying that in the aftermath of the United Nations
vote, residents might attack or even shoot foreigners. The extent of the danger
was unclear.

On Thursday night in New York, after days of often
acrimonious debate played out against a desperate clock, and with Colonel
Qaddafi’s troops within 100 miles of Benghazi, the Security Council authorized
member nations to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians,
diplomatic code words calling for military action.

Diplomats said the resolution — which passed with 10 votes,
including the United States, and abstentions from Russia, China, Germany,
Brazil and India — was written in sweeping terms to allow for a wide range of
actions, including strikes on air-defenses systems and missile attacks from

Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s
passage. “We are embracing each other,” said Imam Bugaighis, spokeswoman for
the rebel council in Benghazi. “The people are euphoric. Although a bit late,
the international society did not let us down.”

The vote, which came after rising calls for help from the
Arab world and anguished debate in Washington, left unanswered many critical
questions about who would take charge, what role the United States would play
and whether there was still enough time to stop Colonel Qaddafi from
recapturing Benghazi and crushing a rebellion that had once seemed likely to
drive him from power. After the vote, President Obama met with the National
Security Council to discuss the possible options, European officials said. He
also spoke by telephone on Thursday evening with Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy, the
White House said.

A Pentagon official said Thursday that decisions were still
being made about what kind of military action, if any, the United States might
take with the allies against Libya. The official said that contingency planning
continued across a full range of operations, including a no-fly zone, but that
it was unclear how much the United States would become involved beyond
providing support.

That support is likely to consist of much of what the United
States already has in the region — Awakes radar planes to help with air traffic
control should there be airstrikes, other surveillance aircraft and about 400
Marines aboard two amphibious assault ships in the region, the Kearsarge and
the Ponce.

The Americans could also provide signal-jamming aircraft in
international airspace to muddle Libyan government communications with its
military units.

The United States has played a complicated role in the
debate over military involvement, initially expressing great reluctance about
being drawn into another armed conflict in a Muslim country but subsequently
unnerved by the reports of Colonel Qaddafi’s gains.

But diplomats said the moral imperative of protecting
civilians from Colonel Qaddafi and the political imperative of United States
not watching from the side-lines while a notorious dictator violently crushed a
democratic rebellion had helped wipe away lingering doubts.

Characterizing Colonel Qaddafi as a menacing “creature”
lacking a moral compass, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said
Thursday that the international community had little choice but to act. “There
is no good choice here. If you don’t get him out and if you don’t support the
opposition and he stays in power, there’s no telling what he will do,” Mrs.
Clinton said from Tunisia on Thursday.

The Security Council resolution — sponsored by Lebanon,
another Arab state, and strongly backed by France, Britain and the United
States — explicitly mentions the need to protect civilians in the rebel
stronghold Benghazi, “while excluding an occupation force.” It calls to
“establish a ban on all flights in the airspace” and an immediate cease-fire.

Mrs. Clinton said Thursday that establishing a no-fly zone
over Libya would require bombing targets inside the country to protect planes
and pilots. She said other options being considered included the use of drones
and arming rebel forces, though not ground troops, an option that appeared to
be ruled out Thursday by the State Department’s highest-ranking career
diplomat, Under Secretary William J. Burns.

The vote was also a seminal moment for the 192-member United
Nations and was being watched closely as a critical test of its ability to take
collective action to prevent atrocities against civilians. Diplomats said the spectre
of former conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, when a divided and sluggish
Security Council was seen to have cost lives, had given a sense of moral
urgency to Thursday’s debate. Yet some critics also noted that a no-fly zone
authorized in the early 1990s in Bosnia had failed to prevent some of the worst
massacres there, including the Srebrenica massacre.

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