France sends military advisers to Libya
France said Wednesday it has sent military advisers into insurgent-held eastern Libya, with Britain and Italy set to follow suit, as Tripoli warned foreign boots on the ground would prolong the conflict.
The developments come as the besieged rebel-held city of Misrata desperately pleaded for help against Moamer Kadhafi's forces, who have been pounding it for more than six weeks.
The bombardment continued on Wednesday, with loud explosions heard mid-afternoon in Misrata, where there was heavy overnight fighting and from which thousands of people are attempting to flee.
In Paris, French foreign ministry spokeswoman said, "France has placed a small number of liaison officers alongside our special envoy to Benghazi who are carrying out a liaison mission with the TNC.
"The precise objective is to give the TNC essentially technical, logistical and organisational advice to reinforce the protection of civilians and to improve the distribution of humanitarian and medical aid," she said.
She was referring to the rebel Transitional National Council, which so far has publicly rejected any suggestion of foreign troops on the ground as NATO warplanes enforce a US-mandated no-fly zone designed to protect civilians.
Government spokesman Francois Baroin said "fewer than 10" officers are involved, and repeated France's position that: "We are not envisaging troops on the ground, in any shape or form."
Baroin also said France was not seeking a new UN Security Council action that would give the allies a broader mandate to intervene in Libya.
"We are not taking the initiative to seek a new Security Council resolution. The French position is stable and unchanged on this problem of applying Resolution 1973," he said.
The resolution permitted the use of force to protect Libyan civilians, but explicitly forbids a "foreign occupation force" -- a phrase some states interpret as banning any ground intervention at all.
The announcement came the day after France's main ally in the drive to help rebels, Britain, said it would send advisers to help organise the stalled rebellion.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London would send 12 military advisers to eastern Libya, but that they would not be involved in training or arming the rebels, or help in planning operations.
"They're not boots on the ground; this is not British ground combat forces going in ... There is going to be no ground invasion of Libya," Hague told BBC television.
Hague said the advisers would help rebels develop organisational structures, communications and logistics and coordinate humanitarian aid and medical supplies.
And Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said former colonial power Italy would also send 10 army advisers to aid the rebels.
"There is a clear understanding that the rebels have to be trained," La Russa said.
France and Britain, which launched the first air strikes on March 19, have struggled to convince allies to intensify the air war while NATO commanders are scrambling to obtain even a few more ground-attack jets.
On Tuesday evening, Nuri Abdullah Abdullati, a senior member of Misrata's governing council, pleaded for help to break the nearly two-month-old Kadhafi siege of the Mediterranean port city that has killed hundreds.
Previously, he said, "we did not accept any foreign soldiers in our country, but now, as we face these crimes of Kadhafi, we are asking on the basis of humanitarian and Islamic principles for someone to come and stop the killing."
"Before we were asking for no foreign interference, but that was before Kadhafi used Grad rockets and planes. Now it's a life or death situation."
Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Laabidi told the BCC "we think any military presence is a step backwards, and we are sure that if this bombing stopped and there is a real ceasefire we could have a dialogue among all Libyans about what they want -- democracy, political reform, constitution, election.
"This could not be done with what is going on now," Laabidi said.
He added that if the bombing stopped, after six months there could be a UN supervised election that would cover "whatever issue is raised by Libyans", and that anything could be on the table.
He implied that this could include the future of Kadhafi as leader.
Seif al-Islam, a son of Kadhafi, said he was confident the rebellion would fail.
"I am very optimistic and we will win," Seif said on Allibya television.
"The situation changes every day in our favour," he said before a group of about 50 attending the television broadcast. He did not give details.
Seif vowed that his father's regime would "not seek revenge" against the rebels fighting to oust him.
But he warned that "the use of weapons and force will only be met by force and those who cross the four red lines, set in 2007 (Kadhafi, Islam, state security and national unity) will have to bear the consequences".
The plea for help in Misrata came as Kadhafi and rebel forces engaged in fierce fighting in the southeastern part of the city and continued overnight.
On Wednesday afternoon, an AFP correspondent said "we've been hearing many deep, booming blasts over the past hour or two. Could be heavy artillery, could be air strikes."
Meanwhile, the world community scrambled to provide humanitarian aid to Libya and to evacuate those fleeing the fighting, mostly foreign workers.
A Greek ferry chartered by Qatar was preparing to take out 1,100 refugees from Misrata, an AFP correspondent said -- roughly half of them Libyans and half from other African countries.
And a Red Cross vessel docked in the port on Wednesday to take people out with staff working out how many foreign workers in the city still needed to be evacuated.
© 2011 AFP