Gates: “no timeline” for Libya operation; rebels pledge democratic regime

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Cairo March 23 that the UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone in Libya is “not time-limited” and that it was unrealistic to expect military action to be over in a matter of weeks. “So I think that there is no current timeline in terms of when it might end,” he told reporters. The comments came as nearly 12 hours of Allied air-strikes broke the Libyan regime’s five-day siege of the key rebel-held town of Misurata. Aerial bombardment destroyed tanks and artillery, sending the bulk of Moammar Qaddafi’s besieging forces fleeing, and securing the town for the rebels. The battle for Misurata is said to have cost some 100 lives from shelling, snipers and street fighting. (Middle East Online, The Guardian, March 23)

Representatives of the Libyan opposition’s Interim National Council spoke in Paris on plans for a post-Qaddafi government. “The future Libya will be democratic and secular,” said Mansour Saif al-Nasr, an emissary though not a member of the council, based in rebel-held Benghazi. “The Libyan people are a moderate people, and the state will not be led by clerics,” he told a large gathering of writers, ex-ministers and reporters assembled by Bernard Henry-Levy, a French intellectual who helped facilitate Paris’ recognition of the rebel authority.

The Interim National Council (INC) has 31 members, but the identities of only eight have been revealed because most still live in zones held by forces loyal to Qaddafi. “They are mainly lawyers and professors. All regions of Libya are represented, and there are members from all the tribes,” including Qaddafi’s, Nasr said.

A second opposition spokesman, Ali Zeidan, said rebel forces needed military hardware to defend their positions and pressure the Qaddafi regime. “We want the coalition to continue to destroy its military capacity,” said Zeidan, the council’s informal spokesman in Europe. “We have the men. What we are asking for is the arms.” The conflict could be over “in 10 days if the air strikes continue with the same intensity to take out armored cars and heavy artillery. We have enough men to march on Tripoli, we are sure of victory,” Ali Zeidan said.

Nasr rejected the idea that Libya was in the midst of a civil war. “It’s a people who are fed up after 42 years of dictatorship. There is no risk of Libya breaking up,” he said. He added that Libyans are grateful that France pushed for and initiated the military action, and was the first nation to recognize the INC. “In Libya, now they say, ‘One, Two, Three, merci Sarkozy’,” said Nasr.

Britain shortly followed suit in recognizing the rebels. Citing anonymous sources, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Egypt is arming the Libyan rebels. (Middle East Online, WSJ, March 23)

See our last posts on Libya and the regional revolutions.

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