As diplomats and government officials met Thursday in three world capitals and deliberated over the Libyan crisis, forces loyal to Libyan leader Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi continued to pound the rebel-held city of Misurata.
Reuters reports a rocket assault on a residential neighborhood killed 23 – including women and children — and the New York Times says 13 died in an attack on the port. The Times says pro-Gaddafi forces shelled the port in an attempt to prevent an emergency relief ship from being able to dock and pick up 800 foreign nationals stranded in the city, and to prevent relief and weapons from reaching the rebels.
Rebels warned they are fearful of an impending “massacre” if NATO doesn’t step up air strikes. Misurata has been under attack for weeks now, and the government has cut off food, water, electricity and communications in the city — creating a humanitarian crisis that only grows worse as the days go by.
Three meetings in three cities but little agreement
From the NATO alliance meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin, to talks in Cairo between U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and officials from the European Union, Arab League, African Union and Organization of the Islamic Conference, to the ongoing Libyan Contact Group discussions in Doha with NATO, Arab and African leaders, one of the few themes that is emerging at this point is a rise in tensions over whether it’s necessary to step up operations in order to solve the crisis.
France and Britain believe it is, and as the BBC reports, have been urging NATO members to do more. Turkey and Germany remain opposed to the Libya mission.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who attended the Berlin meeting Thursday, said “atrocities” were being committed in Misurata and she urged “resolve and unity” among NATO nations though, as the New York Times noted, “she gave no indications that the United States was prepared to reassume a central role in the attacks.”
Should NATO increase air strikes?
The crux of the “unity” problem revolves around disagreement among NATO members about whether or not to intensify air strikes over the region — an issue, coupled with criticism of the alliance’s slow response to the crisis — that has dogged the alliance from the time the no fly zone over Libya went into effect. And despite Britain’s and France’s attempts at persuasion, the BBC says the question remains as to which other countries are willing to join an active combat role.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he told foreign ministers at the Berlin meeting the alliance needs “a few more precision-fighter ground attack aircraft for air-to-ground missions.” But according to the BBC he has not received any offers to date. He also told reporters on Thursday, “Military power alone cannot provide the solution to the crisis.”
As the New York Times reports:
At a news conference, Mr. Rasmussen said the campaign had three military objectives — an end to “all attacks and threats of attack against civilian and civilian-populated areas,” the “verifiable withdrawal” of all pro-Qaddafi forces, including “snipers, mercenaries and paramilitary forces,” to their bases and “immediate, full, safe and unhindered” access for humanitarian aid to “all the people in Libya in need of assistance.”
Since the campaign began, he said, NATO warplanes had flown 2,000 sorties, 900 of them involving airstrikes.
But France and Britain – the countries that have been carrying out most of the air strikes – have complained that other NATO countries have not been carrying their fair share of the burden.
And, the Times said:
Pentagon officials disclosed Wednesday that American warplanes had continued to strike targets in Libya even after the Obama administration said the United States was stepping back from offensive missions and letting NATO take the lead.
Only 14 of the alliance’s 28 members are actively participating in the operation, and only 6 are carrying out airstrikes against targets on the ground, said a NATO diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
“There is certainly not a shortage of aircraft among NATO nations,” the NATO diplomat said. “We get the impression that while countries are willing to do air sorties, they are not willing to strike for fear of hitting civilians. Qaddafi’s forces often place their armored personnel carriers close to civilian populations.”
There’s no doubt it’s a tricky situation, compounded by the fact that NATO ministers also seem divided on whether or not to directly arm the rebels. France reportedly opposes the idea, while Italy is in favor of it.
Qatar supplying weapons to Libyan rebels
In the meantime, officials in Doha have confirmed the Qatari government is supplying anti-tank weapons to Libyan rebels in Benghazi, the Guardian reports. The emir of Qatar is the only Arab leader to recognize the rebel’s governing body, the Transitional National Council, based in Benghazi.
From the Guardian:
Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem, has said that UN resolutions on Libya permitted the supply of “defensive weapons” to opposition forces struggling to fight Libyan armour.
Qatari government officials were reluctant to be drawn on the delivery of French-made Milan missiles, thought to be by sea. “We need to send the Libyans equipment so they can defend themselves and get on with their lives,” a senior source said. “These are civilians who have had to become fighters because of the situation.”
Not surprisingly, Gaddafi’s government has complained about Qatar’s role in supplying the rebels.
NATO-led coalition will try to transfer frozen assets to rebels
The New York Times reports from the Doha Contact Group meeting that NATO, African and Arab ministers agreed “to work urgently” with the Libyan rebel leadership figure out a way for some of the frozen assets owned by Gaddafi and his family to be transferred to the rebels.
The agreement came at the first meeting among representatives of the NATO-led coalition, regional leaders and the rebels in a closed-door conference here that was billed as the beginning of a continuing dialogue.
The rebels have taken the agreement to mean that the alliance will provide military support, but the Times points out that it seems unlikely the allied countries would send offensive weaponry, at least as a coalition.
Despite all of the squabbling among the NATO allies and others about whether or not to increase air strikes over Libya, the commitment to try and figure out a way to deal with the frozen assets was a show of unity, at least of some sort
“This is the money of the Libyans, not of Colonel Qaddafi,” said Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, who added that the assistance would be aimed “at humanitarian and daily needs.”
The Doha contact group meeting echoed the Berlin meeting to the extent that the ministers agree with NATO’s secretary general that a military solution alone will not end the crisis, although France and Britain would like to see more military action.
As the Times noted:
Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle appeared to sum up the prevailing opinion when he said, “We will not see a military solution, but a political solution.”
But the rebels say that there cannot be a political solution until Colonel Qaddafi and his sons are out of power, and that ousting them will take military action.
The differing views were papered over in a final draft statement by the leaders of 21 countries, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. “It is for the people of Libya to choose their own government,” the communiqué said. “Participants in the Contact Group agreed to continue to provide support to the opposition.”
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Read more: benghazi, berlin, ceasefire agreement, doha, foreign policy, international contact group, libya, misurata, muammar gaddafi, nato, no fly zone, peace agreement, politics, Qatar, rebels, regional conflict, security council resolution, united nations
Photo of Libya map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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