Rebel-held Libyan cities holds on amid fears of violence

UN suspends Libya’s HRC membership; US: Setting no-fly zone would require bombing raids

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 1, 2011 22:32
Libya: Rebel fighters wait for pro-Gaddafi forces

Libya rebels waiting for a fight 311 Reu. (photo credit: Asmaa Waguih / Reuters)

 
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Facing seemingly insurmountable pressure in Libya and abroad to stand down, Muammar Gaddafi remained defiant Tuesday, dispatching forces to a western border area amid fears that the most violent Arab revolt yet may grow bloodier and spark a humanitarian crisis.

The veteran ruler’s son, Saif al-Islam, warned the West against launching military action to topple Gaddafi, and said the veteran ruler would not step down or go into exile.


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“Using force against Libya is not acceptable. There’s no reason, but if they want... we are ready, we are not afraid,” al-Islam told Sky television. “We live here, we die here.”

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Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council because of violence by Libyan forces against protesters.

The resolution was adopted by consensus in the 192-nation General Assembly on the basis of a recommendation of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the assembly’s move to suspend Libya’s membership in the council, the rights panel’s decision to set up an inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in Libya, and the Security Council’s referral of Libya to the International Criminal Court.

“These actions send a strong and important message – a message of great consequence within the region and beyond – that there is no impunity, that those who commit crimes against humanity will be punished, that fundamental principles of justice and accountability shall prevail,” Ban said.

Indeed, Gaddafi’s legitimacy abroad seems to be dwindling further by the day. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told lawmakers on Tuesday that Libya could either become a democracy or face “protracted civil war.”



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In Moscow, a Kremlin source suggested Gaddafi should step down, calling him a “living political corpse.”

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington would apply pressure on Gaddafi until he bows out, work to stabilize oil prices and avert a humanitarian crisis. But she stopped short of saying the Obama administration was ready to impose a no-fly zone over Libya that would prevent Gaddafi from using aircraft against rebels.

Gen. James Mattis, head of US Central Command, told a Senate hearing in Washington that imposing a no-fly zone would be a “challenging” operation that would mean actual attack.

“You would have to remove air defense capability in order to establish a no-fly zone, so no illusions here,” he said. “It would be a military operation – it wouldn’t be just telling people not to fly airplanes.”

On the ground in Libya, rebel fighters claimed the balance of the conflict was swinging their way.

“Our strength is growing and we are getting more weapons. We are attacking checkpoints,” said a spokesman in Zawiyah, 50 km. west of Tripoli.

A rebel army officer in the eastern city of Ajdabiyah said rebel units were becoming more organized.

“All the military councils of Free Libya are meeting to form a unified military council to plan an attack on Gaddafi security units, militias and mercenaries,” Capt. Faris Zwei said.

But despite the widespread collapse of Gaddafi’s writ, his forces were fighting back in some regions. A reporter on the Tunisian border saw Libyan troops reassert control at a crossing that was abandoned on Monday, and residents of Nalut, about 60 km. from the border, said pro-Gaddafi forces there deployed to retake control.

A resident of rebel-held Misrata told Reuters by phone: “Symbols of Gaddafi’s regime have been swept away from the city.

Only a [pro-Gaddafi] battalion remains at the city’s air base, but they appear to be willing to negotiate safe exit out of the air base. We are not sure if this is genuine or just a trick to attack the city again.”

Tripoli is Gaddafi’s last stronghold. Tribal leaders, officials, military officers and army units have defected to the rebels. Sanctions will squeeze his access to funds.

Around the Libyan capital there were queues outside bread shops on Tuesday morning. Some residents said many shops were limiting the number of loaves customers could buy.

“The situation is nervous,” said Salah, a doctor. “Of course I am worried. My family is afraid. They are waiting at home. We have been hearing gunfire.”

In the opposition bastion of Benghazi, residents said food and other necessities were in good supply.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation said output had dropped by half because of the departure of foreign workers.

At Ras Jdir on the border with Tunisia, Tunisian border guards fired into the air to try to control a crowd of Egyptian laborers desperate to escape Libya. About 70,000 people have passed through the Ras Jdir crossing in the past two weeks, and in the past few days the rate has increased to up to 15,000 per day, said a UN officer.

Tunisia has struggled under the burden.

“We need the most rapid possible evacuation,” said Tunisian army Col. Mohamed Essoussi. “The major weaknesses are in transport, air and maritime transport.”

The emergency shelters and transit camp could handle 5,000 a day, he said, adding “We are now feeding 17,000 people.”

International aid agencies at the scene agreed with the assessment. Tunisia’s capacity to shelter the flow was at its limit. The agencies said faster evacuation was needed and that control on the Libyan side would greatly ease the crisis, although there appeared to be almost no one with the power and authority to achieve order there.

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