x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

No let-up until Qaddafi goes: allies

World leaders have released a joint statement meant to put to rest allegations of internal rifts in the international alliance conducting air strikes in Libya.

A man in Benghazi weeps after the burial of a friend who was killed by supporters of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi outside the city on Thursday.
A man in Benghazi weeps after the burial of a friend who was killed by supporters of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi outside the city on Thursday.

BERLIN // The leaders of the US, France and Britain sought to mask international rifts over Libya with a strongly worded statement vowing to maintain their air war until Col Muammar Qaddafi had been removed from power, and condemning his "medieval siege" of the western town of Misurata.

Col Qaddafi's forces have been firing cluster bombs into residential neighbourhoods in Misurata, The New York Times quoted witnesses as saying. The weapons, which dump high explosives in large areas, are not precise and can lead to a high civilian death toll.

"The people of Libya are suffering terrible horrors at Qaddafi's hands each and every day," US President Barack Obama, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a joint letter published in US and European newspapers yesterday.

Last month's United Nations mandate calling for a no-fly zone over Libya was to protect civilians, not to remove Col Qaddafi by force, they wrote, adding, "but it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power".

"The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government.

"Britain, France and the United States will not rest until the United Nations Security Council resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their own future."

The statement was published on the second and final day of a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Berlin that exposed divisions among the allies over the scale and strategy of the military operation, and over its chances of success.

The only real point of agreement at the meeting appeared to be that the campaign, which began almost a month ago, will be protracted.

In Berlin, the secretary general of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, at pains to present a common front, said the letter reflected "the unity of purpose and determination of Nato allies".

But he wasn't able to announce any pledges of additional combat planes in response to pleas from France and Britain and from Nato's top military commander, US navy Admiral James Stavridis, who said more precision attack aircraft were needed to avoid civilian casualties as Col Qaddafi's forces were hiding in populated areas.

"We have got indications that nations will deliver what is needed … I'm hopeful that we will get the necessary assets in the very near future," Mr Rasmussen told reporters yesterday. That was an attempt to put a positive spin on the gathering. But it was evident that many Nato allies, including the US, were unwilling to provide more help.

Britain and France complain that other Nato allies have not provided enough firepower to take out Col Qaddafi's armour and allow the rebels in control of the east to sweep him from power.

Italy, seen as a key potential candidate to increase Nato firepower in Libya, immediately ruled out ordering its aircraft to open fire. Rome has made airbases available for Nato forces and has contributed eight aircraft to the mission, but only for reconnaissance and monitoring.

"The current line being followed by Italy is the right one and we are not thinking about changing our contribution to the military operations in Libya," Ignazio La Russa, the Italian defence minister, told reporters in Rome.

The US says it sees no need to change what it calls a supporting role in the campaign - even though it has still been flying one-third of the missions - and many other Nato nations have rules preventing them from striking Col Qaddafi's forces except in self defence.

In Libya, reports said more government rockets crashed into Misurata, a lone rebel bastion in western Libya, yesterday. A local doctor told Al Jazeera at least eight people died and seven others were wounded in the second day of intense bombardment of the city.

Residents told the television network at least 120 rockets hit the city, where hundreds of civilians are reported to have died in a six-week siege. The rebels have begged for more air strikes to avert what they say is a potential massacre in Misurata.

On Thursday, rebels said intense fire from Russian-made Grad rocket launchers into a residential district had killed 23 people, mostly women and children.

Media reports say thousands of foreign migrants are stranded in desperate conditions in the port area. Aid organisations are warning of a humanitarian disaster.

The plight of Misurata has added to the pressure on the Western allies to step up air attacks.

In Tripoli yesterday, Col Qaddafi's daughter, Aisha, defended her father in a rally to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a US bombing raid.

"Talk about Qaddafi stepping down is an insult to all Libyans because Qaddafi is not in Libya, but in the hearts of all Libyans," she said.