Libya fighting persists as coalition mulls action
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, March 18, 2011 8:59PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:14AM EDT
Despite a government-announced ceasefire, Libyan rebels reported new attacks by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, while France announced it would hold an emergency meeting to discuss enforcing a no-fly zone over the North African country.
Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa announced the ceasefire in a televised address on Friday, saying the move was to "take the country back to safety."
On Thursday evening, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that authorized the use of force in Libya and the creation of a no-fly zone to protect rebel forces and civilians from Gadhafi's superior firepower.
The motion called for an immediate ceasefire, but stopped short of allowing a ground invasion.
Despite the ceasefire announcement by the Libyan regime, there were reports that Gadhafi forces were advancing closer to Benghazi, the centre of the opposition movement.
In Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, a doctor told the Associated Press that attacks by Gadhafi forces continued well after the Libyan regime declared a halt in the fighting.
"The shelling is continuing, and they are using flashlights to perform surgery," the doctor said, declining to give his name due to safety concerns. "We don't have anesthetic to put our patients down."
Since Friday morning, he said 25 people had died at his hospital.
A rebel spokesman also said that shelling had continued until late Friday in the western town of Zintan.
It wasn't clear whether the ceasefire order had yet to reach Gadhafi's front-line troops, or whether he had asked his forces to continue assaulting rebel-held areas.
Meanwhile Khaled Kaim, Libya's deputy foreign minister, denied that government forces were continuing their assaults. He also invited Germany, China, Turkey and Malta to send observers to monitor whether there is fighting.
The United States, Britain and France -- along with unnamed Arab countries -- issued a joint statement to Gadhafi on Friday saying that a ceasefire needs to begin "immediately."
In a televised address on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama warned Gadhafi that the terms of the resolution "are not negotiable" and failure to abide by them will lead to military force from "an international coalition."
In addition, Obama said that UN Resolution 1973 compels Gadhafi to:
- halt attacks on civilians
- stop his troops from marching on the rebel-held city of Benghazi
- pull his forces back from Ajdabiya, Misratah and Zawiyah
- connect water, gas and electricity "to all areas"
- and allow in humanitarian aid
"Here's why this matters to us," Obama said. "Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die."
Britain also sent warplanes to the Mediterranean, and France called an emergency meeting in Paris on Saturday to discuss how to enforce the no-fly zone.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the meeting, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the leaders of France and Britain, and representatives from the Arab League and the United Nations.
Canada, Britain and France are among the countries that have indicated they will send fighter jets to help enforce the order.
CTV's Ben O'Hara-Byrne said that even as the ceasefire was being announced, people in the rebel-held cities of Benghazi, Ajdabiya and Misratah said the attacks were continuing.
"If there was in fact a ceasefire, it seems at this point in time that those orders didn't make it to the front lines where pro-Gadhafi forces are fighting," he said from Cairo.
"Or if you were to take a cynical view of it, they weren't ever going to be given those orders anyway."
Also on Friday, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi closed the country's airspace in response to the UN resolution.
Tripoli's airport was shut down to traffic, according to reports.
Europe's air traffic control agency, Eurocontrol, said Friday "the latest information from Malta indicates that Tripoli (air control centre) does not accept traffic."
The Brussels-based agency's map of air traffic over Europe and the Mediterranean showed that Libyan airspace was off limits.
As of Friday there was no word on how long airspace over Libya would be closed, but Eurocontrol said it had called off all air traffic over Libya for at least 24 hours.
In recent days the rebels have been steadily losing ground to Gadhafi, who has rejected demands for his resignation and vowed Thursday to crush the opposition.
The Security Council approved "all necessary measures" to block attacks on Libyan civilians, including air strikes and attacks by sea.
O'Hara-Byrne said rebel forces hoped the latest UN resolution would help level the playing field.
"The rebels hope now that the international community is involved, momentum will now shift that advantage back to them," he said.
The decision to implement a no-fly zone came after a 10-0 vote by Security Council members, with five countries, including Russia and China, abstaining.
After the vote, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was no time to lose.
"Given the critical situation on the ground, I expect immediate action on the resolution's provisions," he said.
He pledged to "work closely with member states and regional organizations to coordinate a common, effective and timely response."
China said Friday it had "serious reservations" about the Security Council's action.
China's foreign ministry said China opposes the use of military force by outside countries, and continued to stress its respect for Libya's independence. China also said the issues in Libya should be resolved through dialogue.
With files from The Associated Press