France resumes air patrols over Libya: ministry

21st March 2011, Comments 0 comments

French jets resumed sorties over Libya early Monday to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone as Paris insisted that the goal of international military campaign was not to eliminate embattled strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

Colonel Thierry Burkhard, a spokesman for the French general staff, said the French planes did not fly over Libya overnight but resumed their missions early Monday.

The planes flew out of French bases -- Solenzara on the Mediterranean island of Corsica and Saint Dizier in the east -- and took three hours to reach the Libyan theater, officials said.

Saturday, France spearheaded the Western-led operation codenamed "Odyssey Dawn" with air strikes on the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

A spokesman for the French defense ministry meanwhile stressed that the air campaign did not aim to eliminate Kadhafi but was meant to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 that calls for protection of Libyan civilians through, among other things, the imposition of a no-fly zone over the country.

"The goal of the coalition is to implement the (UN) resolution, to protect the population," spokesman Laurent Teisseire said.

Asked whether coalition forces would fire on Kadhafi if they were able to locate him, he replied: "The answer is 'No'."

He said the campaign "is not entering a new phase in the sense that we would have changed the objective."

"When we acted first 48 hours ago, we intervened in the air directly over Benghazi," Teisseire said. "Then gradually other means were deployed which are beginning to destroy command and control centers as well air defense systems. It's all the same action."

The spokesman said coalition forces were not relenting in their bid to cripple the ability of Kadhafi's forces to crush a popular uprising but underscored that "the safety of the population remains our priority".

Asked how long the operation would last, Teisseire restated that the goal was to protect civilians "against any threat which may surface and to ensure there is enough pressure on Kadhafi through limits on his moves, embargos, financial freezes so that all the parties moved toward a political solution, which is the final objective."

Explosions have rocked Tripoli as Western forces staged fresh air strikes, with one raid flattening a building in the strongman's heavily fortified residence.

As warplanes took off from Italian bases and anti-aircraft guns roared in the Libyan capital, Kadhafi's army announced a new ceasefire Sunday, saying it was heeding an African Union call for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

But the United States accused Tripoli of lying about the ceasefire or breaching it immediately.

© 2011 AFP

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