As air-strikes continue on Libya, Tripoli on March 21 accused both Allied forces and rebels of breaking a ceasefire, which it had announced late the previous day—but rebel sources said Qaddafi’s troops continued to attack their western enclave of Misurata. Qaddafi’s troops retreated 100 kilometers from the rebel capital of Benghazi after being strafed by coalition aircraft, but beat off a rebel advance on their new positions in Ajdabiya. Gen. Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command, said US forces have no mission to support a ground offensive by the rebels—but that Qaddafi’s troops in the Benghazi area show “little will or capability to resume offensive operations.”
Tripoli officials bitterly protested the bombing of Qaddafi’s personal compound. “This was a barbaric bombing which could have hit hundreds of civilians gathered at the residence of Moammar Qaddafi about 400 metres away from the building which was hit,” spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told journalists taken to the site. He slammed the “contradictions in Western discourses,” saying: “Western countries say they want to protect civilians while they bomb the residence knowing there are civilians inside.”
The US and France denied coalition forces would target Qaddafi, whose whereabouts are now unknown—as did the head of Britain’s armed forces after Foreign Secretary William Hague had refused to rule it out. A coalition official said the strike had destroyed Qaddafi’s “command and control capability.” Diplomats said the Security Council would meet in private to consider a Libyan demand for an emergency session of the top UN body.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa meanwhile expressed full support for Resolution 1973, saying comments the previous day that the air strikes exceeded the UN mandate had been “misinterpreted.” After a meeting in Cairo with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Mussa said: “We are committed to the UNSC Resolution 1973, we have no objection to this decision, particularly as it does not call for an invasion of Libyan territory.”
New countries entered the operation March 21. Belgian and Spanish warplanes began patrolling Libyan skies, Denmark and Italy carried out air-strikes. and Norwegian fighters left for Italian bases. However, Norway’s defense minister said its aircraft would not take action as long as it was unclear which country was commanding the multinational force. The NATO alliance is ready to back up the present de facto coalition within “a few days,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
But most European Union members are still staying out. “It shouldn’t be a war on Libya,” said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, while Bulgaria labelled military intervention an “adventure” driven by oil interests. Germany, which abstained on Resolution 1973, said the action in Libya justified Berlin’s decision not to take part.
The United Arab Emirates said its involvement in Libya is limited to humanitarian assistance, after reports it would send warplanes to join Gulf neighbor Qatar in patrolling the no-fly zone.
US officials also denied leadership of the operation. “We will have a military role in the coalition. But we will not have the pre-eminent role,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters. “It is pretty clear that we agreed to use our unique capabilities and with the breadth of those capabilities at the front end of this process, then we expected in a matter of days to be able to turn over the primary responsibility to others.” (Middle East Online, March 21)
Radio Australia quoted a resident of Misurata who said that Qaddafi-loyalist forces opened fire with heavy artillery and snipers on a 4,000-strong unarmed demonstration against the regime in a plaza in the city during the supposed “ceasefire.” He said 27 had been killed in the massacre. He also said Qaddafi-loyalist forces were going door-to-door in villages around the city to round up the populace and use them as “human shields.” (Radio Australia, March 21)
See our last posts on Libya and the new regional revolutions.
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