G8 leaves decision on no-fly zone for Libya to UNSC

Government forces seize more key territory in east; We’ll unite with al-Qaida should West intervene, says embattled Gaddafi.

Libya peace victory sign 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Libya peace victory sign 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Muammar Gaddafi’s forces seized a strategic town in eastern Libya on Tuesday, opening the way to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi while world powers failed to agree to push for a no-fly zone.
The UN Security Council was expected to receive a draft resolution late Tuesday calling for a no-fly zone and stepped-up sanctions against Gaddafi and his inner circle, council diplomats told Reuters. The 15-nation body did not intend to vote on the draft Tuesday, as most member states would need time to consult with their capitals about the no-fly zone, the diplomats said.
The small town of Ajdabiyah was all that stood between the relentless eastward advance of government troops and Benghazi, and lies on a road junction from which Gaddafi’s forces could attempt to encircle the city, Libya’s second-largest.
In a blow to France’s efforts to use the crisis to reassert its leadership in international diplomacy, a G8 meeting resisted French pressure to come out in support of a no-fly zone and made no mention of the issue in its final communique.
The Libyan crisis dominated the first meeting of France’s Group of Eight presidency, but Germany and Russia blocked flight restrictions sought also by Britain, leaving the group with a position that contained strong words but little substance.
“The Americans are moving toward the security council, the Russians want more detail on the no-fly zone and are cautious, but the Germans blocked it completely,” a G8 diplomatic source said after the talks. “We are in a race against time between building a politically legitimate operation and taking action.”
The stalemate echoed a lack of consensus over the issue at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto-holding member and Germany a temporary member.
On Tuesday, Gaddafi dismissed the French-led plans for a no-fly zone.
“We will fight and win. A situation of that type will only serve to unite the Libyan people,” he told the Italian daily Il Giornale. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he said, had “a mental disorder.”
Gaddafi also said he had been stunned by Europe’s response to the uprising.
“I was really shocked by the attitude of my European friends,” he said. “They have damaged and endangered a series of major accords on security that were in their interests, and the economic cooperation that we had.”
If western forces attacked Libya, he said, his forces would join with radical Islamists.
“We will ally ourselves with al- Qaida and declare holy war,” he said.
The remark struck a bizarre note, even for Gaddafi, given the Libyan leader’s frequent assertions that al- Qaida is pulling the strings of the insurgency.
“The town of Ajdabiyah has been cleansed of mercenaries and terrorists linked to the al-Qaida organization,” state television said Tuesday, referring to the increasingly embattled rebels.
“The battle is lost. Gaddafi is throwing everything against us,” said one rebel officer who gave his name as General Suleiman.
Besides the coastal road to Benghazi, there is also a 400-km. desert road straight to Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, that would cut off Benghazi. But it was not clear whether Gaddafi’s forces were strong enough to be divided and if they could operate with such long supply lines.
Soliman Bouchuiguir, president of the Libyan League for Human Rights, said in Geneva that if Gaddafi’s forces attacked Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, there would be “a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda.”
Gaddafi’s planes, tanks and artillery have had few problems picking off lightly armed insurgents in the open desert, but have faced tougher resistance in towns that offer some cover for the rebels.
The small oil town of Brega, with a population of just 4,300, 75 km.
southwest of Ajdabiyah, changed hands several times in three days of heavy fighting, but also succumbed to superior government firepower on Tuesday.
“We have lost Brega completely.
We could not face Gaddafi’s forces,” said a rebel, who identified himself only as Nasser.
In the UN Security Council, veto powers Russia, China and the United States, along with Portugal, Germany and South Africa, are among the members that have doubts about the idea of a no-fly zone for Libya.
As the diplomatic debate drags on, there is now a very real possibility that by the time world powers agree on a response to the conflict, Gaddafi's forces may already have won.
NATO has set three conditions for it to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya: regional support, proof its help is needed, and a Security Council resolution.
An Arab League call for a no-fly zone satisfies the first condition, but with access to most of Libya barred by Gaddafi’s security forces, hard evidence that NATO intervention is needed to avert atrocities or a humanitarian disaster is scarce.