France pleads to divided UN for Libya no-fly zone

16th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a desperate plea Wednesday for a UN no-fly zone to protect Libya's "martyred" people but German opposition highlighted international divisions over military action.

While UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for a ceasefire by both sides in the conflict, UN Security Council envoys held a second day of talks on a resolution that would order a no-fly zone and tougher sanctions against Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

Kadhafi's forces pounded rebel fighters in western Libya on Wednesday and threatened their eastern bastion of Benghazi, but no UN vote was expected before Thursday.

"Let us save the martyred Libyan people together. Time is now counted in days, or even hours," Sarkozy said in a letter to the leaders of the other countries on the 15-nation Security Council.

Kadhafi has ignored the council's demand to end "his murderous actions," Sarkozy added.

A resolution drawn up by Britain, France and Lebanon, acting for the Arab League, is being negotiated "paragraph by paragraph," said British envoy Mark Lyall Grant.

While all nations have said there is a need for urgent action, China has led opposition to a no-fly zone, Russia has strong doubts and the United States has cautiously not given public backing. Germany's strong opposition came as a new blow to the no-fly zone campaign.

"We have no wish to and we cannot take sides in a north African civil war," Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told lawmakers in Berlin to applause.

He said a no-fly zone would amount to military action and ground forces could be needed as a follow up if it failed.

"We do not wish to start down a path which would eventually lead to German soldiers taking part in a war in Libya," said Westerwelle, whose country is one of 10 non-permanent Security Council members.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has demanded more information from Arab states on how the no-fly zone would be policed. But Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said reports that Russia opposed the resolution were "baloney."

India, South Africa and other council members have strong doubts.

The United States, one of the five veto-wielding members, has not given a clear public position on no-fly zones.

Speaking in Cairo, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said however that an Arab League call for a zone made on Saturday "has changed the thinking of a lot of people" at the council.

Libya's deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has turned against Kadhafi, said about five Arab nations are ready to join a no-fly zone coalition.

He said they were ready to make "an open commitment" to any action decided.

With the rebel capital of Benghazi facing a mounting threat, Lyall Grant said Britain and France want a quick vote "but obviously we are not going to put a resolution to a vote that is not going to get the requisite number of votes in order to pass."

If there was no vote until Thursday, "well, that's not the end of the world," he added.

Kadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, predicted in an interview with the Euronews channel that the rebellion would be over in two days.

"I hope that the Security Council will prove Mr Seif Islam wrong," retorted Lebanon's UN ambassador Nawaf Salam.

UN chief Ban called for a ceasefire by Kadhafi's forces and Libyan rebels ahead of an expected offensive on Benghazi.

Ban "is gravely concerned about the increasing military escalation by government forces, which include indications of an assault on the city of Benghazi," said spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"A campaign to bombard such an urban center would massively place civilian lives at risk. The secretary general is urging all parties in this conflict to accept an immediate ceasefire and to abide by Security Council Resolution 1970."

The resolution, passed on February 26, called for an end to Kadhafi's onslaught against opponents and imposed sanctions against his regime.

© 2011 AFP

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