France and Britain Urge Stronger NATO Action in Libya
Marwan Naamani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By ALAN COWELL and KAREEM FAHIM
Published: April 12, 2011
PARIS —France and Britain urged NATO on Tuesday to intensify airstrikes against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces and called on the alliance to do more to shield noncombatants from loyalist attacks.
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The comments by William Hague, the British foreign secretary, and Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister, also appeared to signal a rift within the alliance only eight days after it assumed command from the United States for the air campaign over Libya.
NATO rejected the French and British criticism.
“NATO is conducting its military operations in Libya with vigor within the current mandate. The pace of the operations is determined by the need to protect the population,” it said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
The French and British comments coincided with a swirl of diplomatic activity as the battlefield situation offered neither the rebels nor their adversaries little immediate prospect of a definitive outcome.
Separately, Moussa Koussa, a former intelligence chief and foreign minister who defected to Britain almost two weeks ago, was allowed to leave Britain on Tuesday after issuing an unusual public statement urging all-party negotiations to prevent his country from becoming a “new Somalia.”
The British authorities said Mr. Koussa was on his way to Qatar — the only Arab country to recognize the Libyan rebel administration in Benghazi — to attend a conference where he would “share his insights” on the inner workings of the Qaddafi regime.
Mr. Koussa had previously been kept incommunicado at a safe house and questioned by British officials, intelligence officers and police seeking to establish whether he played a role in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, speaking in return for anonymity under departmental rules, said on Tuesday that Mr. Koussa had been able to leave because he was “a free individual, who can travel to and from Britain as he wishes” — a remark that seemed to suggest he was not facing any imminent restriction related to the Lockerbie inquiry.
“I ask everybody to avoid taking Libya into a civil war. This would lead to so much blood and Libya would be a new Somalia,” Mr. Koussa said in his statement late Monday, according to a translation from Arabic provided by the BBC.
“The solution in Libya will come from the Libyans themselves, and through discussion and democratic dialogue,” Mr. Koussa said. Mr. Koussa’s remarks may have indicated that he was seeking to position himself for a position in a successor government in Libya. The French and British calls for intensified aerial bombardment came after the rebels in eastern Libya rejected ceasefire proposals from a high-ranking African Union delegation, saying the plan did not provide for Colonel Qaddafi, his sons and his closest aides to leave the country.
Arriving for talks in Luxembourg with other European leaders, Mr. Hague said the allies had to “maintain and intensify” their efforts through NATO, noting that Britain had already deployed extra ground attack aircraft. “Of course, it would be welcome if other countries also did the same,” he said. Like the Libyan rebels and the Obama administration, Mr. Hague urged Colonel Qaddafi to go. “Any viable future for Libya involves the departure of Colonel Qaddafi,” he said.
Mr. Juppé declared in an earlier radio interview: “NATO must play its role in full.”
“It wanted to take the operational lead, we accepted that,” he said. “It must play its role today which means preventing Qaddafi from using heavy weapons to bomb populations.” Currently, he said, the intensity of the air campaign was “not enough.”
The comments by the two ministers seem certain to embolden the rebels in eastern Libya who have called for the allies to hit Colonel Qaddafi’s forces harder. France, Britain and the United States sent their planes on the first sorties of the air campaign in Libya last month.
France was also the first country to recognize the rebel administration in Benghazi and, along with Britain, played a leading role in the diplomacy behind the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing NATO airstrikes.
Mr. Juppé’s remarks seemed to underscore a broader frustration in the West and within the region that months after Arab uprisings toppled the autocratic leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, the clamor for democratic reform has stalled, with popular uprisings facing repression in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere.
The British and French comments came role after alliance warplanes were involved in two deadly friendly-fire incidents last week, just as rebels seeking cover to advance against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces complained that the alliance was not providing sufficient air support.
On Monday, in the eastern city of Ajdabiya, a rebel fighter, Khaled Mohammed, said the westernmost rebel positions were about 25 miles west of the city. He said that under orders from rebel commanders, the fighters were not advancing beyond that point to lessen the chances that NATO warplanes would mistakenly bomb them.
The visit by the African Union negotiators to rebels in Benghazi came hours after the delegation had met in Tripoli with Colonel Qaddafi.