France lays out plan for action on Libya

22nd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

France's prime minister and top diplomat sought Tuesday to give shape to loosely coordinated military action against Libya's Moamer Kadhafi, calling on the UN-backed coalition's foreign ministers to form an oversight body.

At the same time, Paris -- which took the lead in launching air strikes Saturday against Kadhafi forces advancing on rebel-held cities -- underlined the limits of the UN mandate, saying that coalition boots on the ground is not an option.

"I have proposed to our British colleagues, who are in agreement, to set up a special body to oversee the operation," said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

The body would "unite the foreign ministers of the states that are intervening, along with those in the Arab League," he told the French national assembly.

"We should meet in the coming days in Brussels, London or Paris, and continue to meet regularly to show clearly that political oversight is there," he said.

Coalition forces -- led by the United States, France and Britain and including other European states along with Qatar -- are acting under UN Security Council resolution 1973 authorising "all necessary means" to protect civilians in Libya.

But strains have quickly emerged, with nations differing on how the campaign should be conducted, how far to go, and whether NATO should play a central role.

US President Barack Obama called Monday for the trans-Atlantic alliance to take on a "coordinating function," but Juppe clearly backed away from the idea.

"For us, this is primarily an operation willed by the United Nations," he said, noting that not all coalition members were also in NATO.

"It is thus not a NATO operation, even if it should be able to draw on the alliance's military capacity for planning and intervention."

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, meanwhile, said Tuesday that sending coalition ground troops into Libya was "explicitly excluded" as an option.

France cannot be a "substitute" for the Libyan people, even if Paris has called for the ouster of Kadhafi, he said, also speaking before the national assembly.

"We are not conducting a civil war against Libya, but an operation to protect civilian populations, an operation that is using legitimate force," he said during parliamentary debate.

Fillon said the initiative should give opposition forces some breathing space so they can regroup and pursue their goals.

"By removing the Kadhafi regime's military superiority, we want to offer the Libyan people the chance to gather courage, to define a political strategy, and to decide their future," he said.

Even if France is calling for Kadhafi's departure, he continued, "it is up to the Libyan people, and only them, to decide their destiny and their future leaders".

How the situation evolves also depends on the embattled Libyan leader, the foreign minister said.

"The military operations could stop at any moment. All it would take is for the Tripoli regime to adhere precisely and completely with UN Security Council resolutions, and to accept a genuine ceasefire," Juppe said.

He called on Kadhafi to withdraw troops engaged in military advances and send them "back to their barracks."

NATO ambassadors resumed talks on Tuesday after "very difficult" discussions on Monday which failed to overcome their divisions.

But a diplomat said they had agreed to use the organisation's naval power to enforce an arms embargo on Libya ordered under UN resolution 1973.

© 2011 AFP

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