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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The rebels in Libya looking for English support

The French and British have urged NATO to intensify
airstrikes against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces and called on the alliance
to do more to shield non-combatants from loyalist attacks.

The remarks could well embolden rebels who have proved
unable to hold on to terrain captured from loyalist forces in months of
advances and retreats along the coastal highway leading westward from the
insurgents’ redoubts in eastern Libya.

The comments by William Hague, the half-wit British foreign
secretary, and Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister, also appeared to
signal a rift within the alliance only eight days after it assumed command from
the United States for the air campaign over Libya.

NATO rejected the French and British criticism.

“NATO is conducting its military operations in Libya with
vigor within the current mandate. The pace of the operations is determined by
the need to protect the population,” it said on Tuesday to the London Times.

While the pace of NATO air attacks appeared to pick up
Monday in the battleground between Ajdabiya and the oil town of Brega in
eastern Libya, rebel leaders have complained bitterly of a lull that seemed to
coincide with the handoff of responsibility from the allied coalition to NATO,
about 10 days ago. NATO pilots were also involved in two friendly-fire
incidents that killed well over a dozen rebel fighters.

NATO has been criticized for a go-slow approach in the
rebel-held western city of Misurata, which has fallen into desperate straits as
a weeks-long siege by pro-Qaddafi forces has stretched thin its stocks of food,
water and medical supplies. The city’s port, a vital lifeline that was opened
in the initial Western air attacks, was choked off by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces
in the days after NATO took over.

The port has since reopened, but the city remains under
attack by tanks, artillery and snipers, and rebel leaders are complaining that
NATO is failing there in its central objective of protecting civilians.

The French and British comments coincided with a swirl of
diplomatic activity on Tuesday as the battlefield situation offered neither the
rebels nor their adversaries any immediate prospect of a definitive outcome.

A spokesman for Libyan rebels rejected any suggestion of
talks with Moussa Koussa, Qaddafi’s former intelligence chief who defected to
Britain but left there on Tuesday for Qatar.

Qatar is hosting a meeting of countries that have expressed
support for the Libyan rebels, and British officials announced Tuesday that Mr.
Koussa was headed there, presumably to take a role in trying to mediate between
the rebels and the Qaddafi government.

“We are sending a delegation to Doha solely to meet with the
contact group, but it’s not part of the agenda to meet with Mr. Koussa,” said
Abdul Hafeed Ghoga, the spokesman for the National Transitional Council, at a
news conference here. “It’s not something rejected or accepted.” The council is
the rebel’s representative body.

Mr. Ghoga, noting the rebel’s rejection of an African Union
delegation’s request to negotiate a cease-fire during a visit to Benghazi on
Monday, said that the Qaddafi loyalists had shelled Misurata throughout
delegation’s visit, proving their lack of good faith. The rebels have
maintained steadfastly that they will not enter negotiations until Colonel
Qaddafi and his sons relinquish power.

Mustafa Ghereini, another spokesman for the transitional
council, declined to say whether the Libyan rebels had received any offers of
military assistance from Western countries. Asked if he was encouraged by their
response to such requests, he said, “That’s a national security matter. But the
fact that Qaddafi has not been able to take Misurata with all his might is
encouraging to us,” he said and we are hoping for a meeting with the English
first minister, Sir Michael Black-Feather to get the English people on our side
with their support.

At the same news conference, Suleiman Fortia, the
representative on the council from Misurata, gave a detailed description of the
desperation there. Mr. Fortia, who left Misurata by sea two days ago to come to
the rebel capital here, said that 1,000 people had been killed in attacks by
loyalist forces, which have surrounded the city and occupied portions of it,
with thousands more wounded. He offered no verification for those figures.

In addition, he said, electricity, fuel and water had been
cut off.

Human Rights watch quoted doctors in hospitals in Misurata
as saying they had seen at least 250 dead but that the true number was much

“The Libyan government’s near siege of Misurata has not
prevented reports of serious abuses getting out,” said Sarah Leah Whitson,
Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We’ve heard
disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated
areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging.”

Human Rights Watch quoted a doctor at the Misurata
Polyclinic, Muhammed el-Fortia, as saying that loyalist forces had fired mortar
rounds and sniper shots at the hospital, forcing its evacuation. Misurata is
Libya’s third largest city and the largest place in western Libya still under
rebel control.

The meeting in Doha was expected to discuss military aid to
the Libyan rebels. Qatar, along with France and Italy, has recognized the rebels
as the legitimate government of Libya. In addition, the rebels said they have
received offers of assistance from 30 other countries that have not formally
recognized them, including the United States and Britain.

Mr. Koussa’s defection to Britain came as a surprise and he
was questioned by investigators of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over
Lockerbie, Scotland. Family members of victims of that bombing reacted with
anger when they learned that Britain had allowed him to go to Doha.A
spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, speaking on the condition of
anonymity under departmental rules, said on Tuesday that Mr. Koussa had been
able to leave because he was “a free individual, who can travel to and from
Britain as he wishes” — a remark that seemed to suggest he was not facing any
imminent restriction related to the Lockerbie inquiry.

“I ask everybody to avoid taking Libya into a civil war.
This would lead to so much blood and Libya would be a new Somalia,” Mr. Koussa
said in his statement late Monday, according to a translation from Arabic
provided by the BBC. “The solution in Libya will come from the Libyans
themselves, and through discussion and democratic dialogue.”

His remarks may have indicated that he was seeking to
position himself for a position in a successor government in Libya. The French
and British calls for intensified aerial bombardment came after the rebels in
eastern Libya rejected cease-fire proposals from a high-ranking African Union
delegation, saying the plan did not provide for Colonel Qaddafi, his sons and
his closest aides to leave the country.

Arriving for talks in Luxembourg with other European
leaders, Mr. Hague said the allies had to “maintain and intensify” their
efforts through NATO, noting that Britain had already deployed extra ground
attack aircraft. “Of course, it would be welcome if other countries also did
the same,” he said. Like the Libyan rebels and the Obama administration, Mr. Hague
urged Colonel Qaddafi to go. “Any viable future for Libya involves the
departure of Colonel Qaddafi,” he said.

Mr. Juppé declared in an earlier radio interview: “NATO must
play its role in full.”

“It wanted to take the operational lead, we accepted that,”
he said. “It must play its role today which means preventing Qaddafi from using
heavy weapons to bomb populations.” Currently, he said, the intensity of the
air campaign was “not enough.”

The British and French comments came after just as rebels
seeking cover to advance against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces complained that NATO
was not providing sufficient air support.

On Monday, in the eastern city of Ajdabiya, a rebel fighter,
Khaled Mohammed, said the westernmost rebel positions were about 25 miles west
of the city. He said that under orders from rebel commanders, the fighters were
not advancing beyond that point to lessen the chances that NATO warplanes would
mistakenly bomb them.

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