The United Nations Security Council voted to ground Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s air force and to grant military authority to the U.S. and its allies to protect civilians and population centers threatened by his forces.
The UN’s principal policy-making panel yesterday voted 10-0, with five abstentions, to adopt a resolution that establishes a no-fly zone over Libya, demands a cease-fire and allows “all necessary measures” to protect civilians “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”
“We have very little time left,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told the Security Council before the vote. “Every day, every hour, we see the closing of the clamp on the civilians and the population of Benghazi. We should not arrive too late.”
Earlier yesterday, Libyan jets dropped bombs on the outskirts of Benghazi, and Qaddafi went on state television to say his forces would move within hours against the coastal city, the rebel stronghold. It is Libya’s second-largest city, with a population of about 1 million.
The fighting in Libya has left hundreds dead and cut production in the nation with Africa’s largest oil reserves.
Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy
After the vote, U.S. President Barack Obama called U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to begin coordinating their governments’ next steps. The three leaders said they would work with Arab and other international partners on enforcing the terms of the resolution, the White House said in a statement. They also agreed that violence against civilians in Libya must stop, the White House said.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona; John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, released a joint statement calling for action “before it is too late.”
“This was an important step on behalf of the people of Libya, but it will only be as effective as its implementation,” they said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to reporters yesterday during a visit to Tunisia, said options being considered against Qaddafi’s forces include using drones and arming rebel forces.
“It is important to recognize that military experts across the world know that a no-fly zone requires certain actions to be taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the air defense systems,” Clinton said.
Libya’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, said that five Arab nations have agreed to contribute to the no-fly zone. Diplomats said that group would include Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“It is a clear message to the Libyan people that they are not alone,” said Dabbashi, who has broken with the Qaddafi regime. “It is also a clear message to Colonel Qaddafi and those who support him that there is no place for dictatorship, there is no place for killing the people.”
The resolution was amended March 16 at U.S. urging to strengthen the authority for international military intervention to halt attacks by air, land and sea forces loyal to Qaddafi. The U.S. had been reticent to implement a no-fly zone, strongly advocated by France and the U.K., out of concern over its potential effectiveness and the possibility of being drawn into the conflict.
“Colonel Qaddafi and those who still stand by him continue to grossly and systematically abuse the most fundamental human rights of Libya’s people,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said. “On March 12, the League of Arab States called on the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone and take other measures to protect civilians. Yesterday’s resolution is a powerful response to that call and the urgent needs on the ground.”
“We are talking very serious escalation,” David Hartwell, Middle East analyst for the London-based IHS Global Insight, a political and economic forecaster, said in an interview. “If Qaddafi’s forces are moving as quickly as he says, which there is reason to doubt, the U.S., NATO and a few others will have to start acting in the next 48 hours.”
The measure calls on nations to intercept ships or planes suspected of carrying arms or mercenaries to Libya and freezes the foreign assets of seven government officials and five entities. The list includes the Central Bank of Libya, Libyan National Oil Corp., the nation’s defense minister and three of Qaddafi’s sons.
Chinese, Russian Concerns
Chinese and Russian envoys said they were concerned that the resolution could lead to a wider war and that questions about implementation of the no-fly zone weren’t answered to their satisfaction.
China is always against the use of force in international relations,” said Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong. Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin said his government abstained because the resolution has the “potential of opening the door to large- scale military intervention.” He also said important questions about the no-fly zone weren’t answered, including who would enforce it and what the rules of engagement would be.
The outcome of the conflict is “still in doubt,” Mohammed El-Katiri, an analyst with the New York-based risk consultant Eurasia Group, said in an interview. “We might see a counterproductive measure, with people coming to the side of Qaddafi against foreign intervention. And it is very difficult to predict how Qaddafi will deal with this.”
Oil Exports Halted
Libya’s oil output slumped to a “trickle” by last week, according to the International Energy Agency. The conflict, which has left hundreds dead, has helped push up Brent crude prices by about 20 percent this year. Libya’s crude exports may be halted for “many months” because of damage to oil facilities and international sanctions, the IEA said this week.
Clinton, at the town hall session in Tunisia, said the U.S. wants to make clear that any military action has international support, including from Arab nations.
“We don’t want to get into the position where people question why we do what we do” Clinton said. “When we act, we want to act with international partners, we want very much to have Arab leadership and participation.”
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