18 Mar 2011

UN backs military action in Libya

Benghazi celebrates as the UN Security Council imposes a no-fly zone over Libya authorising “all necessary measures” to protect civilians just hours after Gaddafi threatens “no mercy and no pity”.

UN security Council imposes 'all necessary measures' to protect civilians (getty)

Ten of the council’s 15 members – including the UK, US, France, and Lebanon – backed the resolution that makes air strikes against Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and military assets possible to protect civilians under threat of attack. The resolution does not allow for a ground occupation.

Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstained to vote on the resolution, which also calls for an immediate ceasefire and expanded sanctions against Gaddafi and his inner circle.

Any civilian or military moving traffic will be the target of a Libyan counter-offensive Libyan Defence Ministry

Saif Gaddafi said Libya was ‘not afraid’ of the UN resolution, warning of swift retaliation to military action ‘even beyond Libyan frontiers.’

Earlier the Libyan defence ministry warned that “any military operation against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean to danger.”

“Any civilian or military moving traffic will be the target of a Libyan counter-offensive,” a statement read.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain is ready to enforce the measures: “We have been clear that the world would not accept Gaddafi’s brutality against his own people. This Resolution is the expression of that resolve,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words, we would have to see actions on the ground and that is not yet at all clear. We will continue to work with our partners in the international community to press (Muammar) Gaddafi to leave and to support the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.”

Read more: the Arab uprising 

But German Ambassador Peter Wittig, explaining why his country abstained, warned “we should not enter a military confrontation on the optimistic assumption that quick results with few casualties will be achieved” he said.

The Russian and Chinese envoys said the resolution’s strong backers- namely France, the US, Britain, and Lebanon who were representing the Arab League- failed to clarify how the no-fly zone would work and what the rules of engagement would be.

UN diplomats indicated the United Arab Emriates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan were among Arab League members prepared to take part in enforcing the no-fly zone. France and Norway have confirmed they will take part in military action.

Everyone is celebrating and dancing. But we are waiting for it to be implemented. We are tired of talk. Rajab Mohammed al-Agouri, rebel fighter

Joyful scenes

In Benghazi, the main opposition stronghold, a large crowd watching the vote on an outdoor TV projection burst into joyful scenes, shooting celebratory gunfire and green and red fireworks into the air.

“It’s a great development. We are so thankful. Thousands came out last night, families, everyone celebrating and dancing. But we are waiting for it to be implemented. We are tired of talk,” said opposition fighter Rajab Mohammed al-Agouri.

It came just a few hours after Gaddafi warned residents of Benghazi that his forces- who were battling for control of Ajdabiya 100 miles away – would show ‘no mercy’ during an impending assault on the city.

“We will come. House by house, room by room, the matter has been decided, we are coming” he said in a public radio address late on Thursday.

‘We will be crazy too’

In an interview broadcast just before the Security Council voted on the resolution, Gaddafi said the UN had no mandate, before adding: “If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too.”

Speaking to reporters in Tripoli after the vote, Khalid Kaim, the Libyan deputy foreign minister, took a conciliatory tone, offering to negotiate a ceasefire with the rebels.

“We are ready for this decision (a ceasefire) but we require an interlocutor to discuss how to implement it,” Kaim told a news conference.

“We discussed last night with the UN envoy (for Libya, Jordan’s Abdul Ilah Khatib) and asked legitimate questions on the application of a ceasefire,” he said.

Kaim indicated that Libya would “react positively to the UN resolution, and we will prove this willingness while guaranteeing protection to civilians.”

Front Line

The front line has moved rapidly in the last two weeks as Gaddafi has forced back the rebels using his air force and heavy artillery.

The outskirts Ajdabiyah, a key town town on the coast road to Benghazi, were the scene of heavy fighting on Thursday and around 30 people were killed, Al Arabiya reported.

In Libya’s third city, Misrata, about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, rebels and residents said they were preparing for a new attack by Libyan troops, who had shelled the coastal city overnight.

A government spokesman said Gaddafi’s forces expected to be in control of Misrata by Friday morning.