Libyan army says immediate ceasefire ordered

Anti-aircraft gunfire heard in Tripoli; Arab League condemns Western "bombardment of civilians" despite backing no-fly zone.

By REUTERS
March 20, 2011 21:49
3 minute read.
Rebel fighter runs for cover in front of vehicles

Libya bombing 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

The Libyan armed forces have issued a command to all units to observe an immediate ceasefire, a Libyan army spokesman told a news conference on Sunday.

The announcement came after some 24 hours of air bombardment from American, French and British forces aiming to implement a UN resolution authorising the use of force to protect Libyan civilians from government troops.

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"The Libyan armed forces ... have issued a command to all military units to safeguard an immediate ceasefire from 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) this evening," a Libyan army spokesman said.

Sunday evening, heavy anti-aircraft gunfire was heard in central Tripoli, a Reuters reporter said.

The sustained bursts were accompanied by tracer rounds. Machinegun fire was also heard.

Earlier, Western forces pounded Libya's air defenses and patrolled its skies, but their day-old intervention hit a serious diplomatic setback as the Arab League chief condemned the "bombardment of civilians".



Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed to defeat the Western powers' "terrorism" and sent his troops and tanks into the rebel-held coastal city of Misrata, residents said.

European and US forces unleashed warplanes and cruise missiles against Gaddafi on Saturday in a United Nations-backed intervention to prevent the veteran leader from killing civilians as he fights an uprising against his 41-year rule.

But Arab League chief Amr Moussa said what was happening was not what Arabs had envisaged when they called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

"What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," he said.

In comments carried by Egypt's official state news agency, Moussa also said he was calling for an emergency Arab League meeting.

Arab backing for a no-fly zone provided crucial underpinning for the passage of the UN Security Council resolution last week that paved the way for the Western intervention, the biggest against an Arab country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

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Withdrawal of that support would make it much harder to pursue what some defense analysts say could in any case be a difficult, open-ended campaign with an uncertain outcome.

The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the no-fly zone was effectively in place. But he told CBS the endgame of military action was "very uncertain" and acknowledged it could end in a stalemate with Gaddafi.

Mullen said he had seen no reports of civilian casualties from the Western strikes. But Russia said there had been such casualties and called on Britain, France and the United States to halt the "non-selective use of force".

The aerial assault stopped in its tracks the advance by Gaddafi's troops into the eastern city of Benghazi, and left the burned and shattered remains of his tanks and troop carriers littering the main road outside the rebel stronghold.

The charred bodies of at least 14 government soldiers lay scattered in the desert.

"Gaddafi is like a chicken and the coalition is plucking his feathers so he can't fly. The revolutionaries will slit his neck," said Fathi Bin Saud, a 52-year-old rebel carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, surveying the wreckage.

A Libyan government health official said the death toll from the Western air strikes had risen to 64 on Sunday after some of the wounded died. But it was impossible to independently verify the reports as government minders refused to take Western reporters in the capital Tripoli to the site of the bombings.


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