'Military intervention in Libya may follow int'l summit'

French UN envoy says military action may be taken "hours after" upcoming meeting on situation; US claims Libyan gov't violating ceasefire, advancing on Benghazi; Gaddafi calls UN resolution "blatant colonialism."

By REUTERS
March 19, 2011 04:31
3 minute read.
Libyan soldiers at gates to Ajdabiyah

Libyan Soldiers Tank 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

TRIPOLI - The United States accused Muammar Gaddafi of defying international demands for an immediate ceasefire, and France's UN envoy predicted military action within hours of an international meeting on Libya on Saturday.

A unilateral ceasefire declared on Friday by the Libyan government appeared to have done little to convince outside powers to hold off on plans for air strikes to force an end to an increasingly bloody civil war.

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Residents in the rebel-held western city of Misrata said they faced heavy bombardment on Friday -- a charge the government denied -- while a US official said Gaddafi's forces were still advancing towards the rebels' eastern stronghold Benghazi.

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Within hours of President Barack Obama saying the terms of a UN resolution meant to end fighting in Libya were non-negotiable, his UN envoy, Susan Rice, asked by CNN whether Gaddafi was in violation of these terms, said: "Yes, he is."

Gaddafi said there was no justification for the UN resolution.

"This is blatant colonialism. It does not have any justification. This will have serious consequences on the Mediterranean and on Europe," he said in comments reported by Al Jazeera television.

France, which along with Britain has been leading a drive for military intervention, will host a meeting on Saturday on Libya which will be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Arab leaders.

"Tomorrow we will have a summit in Paris with all the major participants in the operations and in the diplomatic effort. So I think it would be a good moment to send the last signal," the French ambassador to the United Nations told BBC's Newsnight.



"So I guess that after this summit, I think that in the coming hours, I think we will go to launch the military intervention," ambassador Gerard Araud said.

Obama made clear any military action would aim to change conditions across Libya -- rather than just in the rebel-held east -- by calling on Gaddafi's forces to pull back from the western cities of Zawiyah and Misrata as well as from the east. "All attacks against civilians must stop," Obama said, a day after the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing international military intervention.

"Gaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya ...

"Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable... If Gaddafi does not comply ... the resolution will be enforced through military action."

MISRATA BOMBED, RESIDENTS SAY

A US national security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, later said the troop movements by Gaddafi's forces towards Benghazi were "purposeful". The assessment was based on official reporting reaching US national security agencies.

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It was impossible to contact anyone on the frontline far to the west of Benghazi to find out what was happening. But in Benghazi, rebels dismissed the ceasefire declaration as a ruse.

"He is lying. His troops are advancing. We don't believe what Gaddafi says," said Mohammed Ishmael al-Tajouri, from the rebel coalition in Benghazi. "When he comes to Benghazi he will be fighting. There is no negotiating with Gaddafi."

In Misrata, which like Zawiyah has been left stranded in the west while rebels who had advanced towards them from the east were beaten back by a counter-offensive by Gaddafi forces, residents said they had faced heavy bombardment on Friday.

One doctor said at least 38 people had been killed in the assault launched on Friday morning.


In Tripoli the government said there had been no bombing since it announced the ceasefire.

"We have had no bombardment of any kind since the ceasefire was declared," Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told journalists when asked about reports of continued government operations in Misrata and other parts of the country.

Kaim said Libya was asking China, Germany, Malta and Turkey to send observers to monitor its adherence to the ceasefire.


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