Libya: momentum gains for no-fly zone

International consensus is growing for some kind of foreign military intervention in Libya as Moammar Qaddafi’s forces continue to press their offensive against rebels both east and west of Tripoli. The Organization of the Islamic Conference joined calls for a no-fly zone over Libya on March 8. The demand was also raised by the the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of six Arab states on the Persian Gulf. Britain and France are drafting a UN resolution calling for such a no-fly zone, although Russia is expected to use its veto power against it.

A growing number of US politicians have come out in favor of intervention in Libya, including senators John McCain and John Kerry. Newt Gingrich weighed in with typical bombast, telling Fox News the US should “exercise a no fly zone this evening,” and proceed unilaterally. “The United States doesn’t need anybody’s permission. We don’t need to have NATO, who frankly, won’t bring much to the fight,” he said. “We don’t need to have the United Nations.” Gingrich argued that it would take “minutes” for the US military to suppress Libya’s air power. In contrast, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates earlier said that instating a no-fly zone in Libya would be “a big operation in a big country.”

Rebel forces within Libya also called for the UN to impose a no-fly zone, as Qaddafi-loyalist forces carried out more air-strikes on their positions around the oil hub of Ras Lanuf and waged a ground campaign with tanks and artillery to recapture Zawiya city. Unnamed diplomatic sources said rebel leaders rejected an offer by pro-Qaddafi officials to hold talks, insisting the dictator leave the country. Other sources claimed officials had broached talks on Qaddafi’s exit. A Qaddafi spokesman rejected the claim as “rubbish.” (RFE/RL, Huffington Post, Middle East Online, March 8; AFP, March 7)

There are also disturbing reports of violent attacks on foreign migrants and guest workers by the rebel forces, apparently in reaction to Qaddafi’s widespread use of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa. The UN World Food Programme said a truck convoy with emergency rations was able to enter eastern Libya bound for Benghazi. Some 215,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, many of them poor migrant workers who have been stranded for days at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. A group of Sudanese who arrived in Egypt from eastern Libya told representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that armed rebels were going to door to door, forcing people from sub-Saharan countries to flee. (CNN, March 8)

See our last post on the Libyan crisis.

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