'End is near' for Kadhafi: NATO

23rd August 2011, Comments 0 comments

NATO said Tuesday "the end is near" for Moamer Kadhafi despite the battle for Tripoli dragging on and the defiant appearance of the Libyan leader's son when rebels claimed he was arrested.

"The end is near," chief NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told a Brussels press conference. "For the Kadhafi regime, this is the final chapter -- they're fighting a losing battle."

Asked about son Seif al-Islam's appearance in Tripoli, Lungescu said the logical conclusion to be drawn was that the family's influence was waning fast.

"A brief appearance in the dead of night doesn't indicate to me someone who is in control of a capital," she said. "It shows the remnants of the regime are on the run.

"It will be up to the Libyan people to decide their fate."

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor had backed up rebel claims at the weekend that they arrested Seif. The court backtracked on Tuesday, but Lungescu said the reality was that the family was "on the run".

"As we've seen in the Balkans... they may be on the run for some time, but they can't hide," she said, in reference to captured war criminals from the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Eighteen years after its creation, the last of 161 suspects wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) came before the court last month.

Joining Lungescu via video-conference from the Libyan mission's Naples headquarters, Operation Unified Protector spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie admitted that landing the killer blow in Tripoli is proving "far more complex" than expected.

Pressed repeatedly to comment on "boots on the ground", meaning soldiers working alongside rebel fighters at close quarters, both Lungescu and Lavoie stressed that this was not permitted under the United Nations Security Council resolutions governing their presence.

These would be matters for "national decisions", Lungescu said when asked to comment on recurrent reports of British and French special forces guiding rebel action.

Although he maintained that the Kadhafi regime "has passed the tipping point and is going down... it's a matter of when", Lavoie stressed that the context of street fighting in the capital restricts NATO's operational influence at the sharp end of the rebel push on the Kadhafi compound in the city.

"We do not provide close air support," the Canadian said in response to questioning on NATO's precise role in the battle for Tripoli that began in earnest on Sunday.

During urban fighting, he said "being engaged directly alongside combatants would not really be practical".

He insisted, however: "We will take out and strike at targets if they pose a threat to the civilian population."

Politically, Kadhafi himself is "not a target" for NATO, Lavoie stressed, saying "NATO does not target individuals."

"Of course we do target command and control facilities," he added. "If Kadhafi is located in a command and control facility, these are legitimate targets and we will strike" when acting to reduce his regime's military capacity.

Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez also said the Libyan leader's days were numbered.

"The rebels have liberated practically all of Tripoli, even if there are some areas of resistance," she told Cadena Ser radio. "There is still some uncertainty on... the time it will take to resolve the situation. What is clear is that the Kadhafi era is reaching its end."

Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon said it was "a question of hours or days" before the Libyan regime's collapse and that NATO was "already working" on the post-Kadhafi era.

NATO ambassadors began discussing on Tuesday the prospects of another 90-day extension to its mission when the current validity runs out at the end of September.

Many governments are looking carefully at the cost of the fighting, in a time of static economic growth and with several false breakthroughs already having been claimed by the anti-Kadhafi coalition since the action first started on March 19.

© 2011 AFP

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