NATO hawks and doves bitterly divided over Libya

Civil war causing humanitarian disaster; up to 3.6 million people could need assistance

libyan rebels 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
libyan rebels 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
DOHA/TRIPOLI – Britain pressured other NATO members to increase ground attacks in Libya on Wednesday, but cracks appeared in the alliance, as foreign ministers met in Qatar to try to break the deadlock in the civil war.
NATO divisions surfaced at the international “contact group” meeting – not only over arming the rebels and increasing air strikes, but also on creating a fund from frozen Libyan assets – to help the opposition attempting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.
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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined the humanitarian disaster caused by the war, telling the meeting that up to 3.6 million people – or more than half the population – could need assistance.
Paris and London are increasingly frustrated that air strikes have neither tipped the balance of the war in favor of rebels trying to end Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule, nor ended devastating shelling of the besieged city of Misrata.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe criticized NATO on Tuesday for not doing enough to stop the bombardment of the rebel-held port town, where hundreds of civilians are said to have died in more than six weeks of siege.
Libyan state television said on Wednesday that NATO planes bombed Misrata’s main Tripoli Street – scene of repeated battles between rebels and government troops. It said people were killed, without giving details.
British Foreign Minister William Hague told Reuters that other coalition aircraft must join ground attacks.
“There are many other nations around Europe, and indeed Arab nations, who are part of this coalition. There is scope for some of them to move some of their aircraft from air defense into groundstrike capability,” he said.
NATO said it destroyed 16 tanks, an anti-aircraft gun and a pickup truck in operations on Tuesday.
Rebels attending the Doha meeting said they expected more support, saying NATO was using “minimum” power and needed to step up attacks on Gaddafi’s heavy weapons.
Britain and France, western Europe’s two main military powers, are delivering most of the air strikes on Gaddafi’s armor since President Barack Obama ordered US forces to take a back seat.
Other NATO countries are either keeping their distance from the campaign or enforcing a no-fly zone – but not bombing.
A wide gap has appeared between NATO hawks and doves.
Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere said the March 17 UN resolution authorizing NATO action in Libya – to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s government forces – ruled out arming civilians, and he saw no need to boost forces there.
In another disagreement, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle voiced reservations about an Italian call to create a fund from frozen assets to aid the rebels.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Hague called for a temporary financial mechanism to fund rebel governments in the eastern territory they control. The rebels said they needed $1.5 in aid for civilians.