Kadhafi warned as French planes overfly Libya

19th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy told Moamer Kadhafi to stop attacks on Libyan rebels "to avoid the worst" as French warplanes began overflying Libya after a summit Saturday on enforcing a UN resolution.

"In agreement with our partners, our air force will oppose any attack by Colonel Kadhafi's planes on the people of Benghazi," Sarkozy said, referring to the Libyan rebels' bastion.

"Our planes are already preventing air strikes on the city," he said.

Sarkozy added that other planes were ready to intervene against tanks that "might threaten unarmed civilians."

The French leader spoke after a summit in Paris of US, European and Arab leaders to discuss what action to take on Libya to enforce a UN Security Council resolution which ordered an immediate ceasefire.

Sarkozy hosted the crisis meeting attended by prime ministers David Cameron of Britain, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Government leaders from Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Poland were also at the summit, diplomats said. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and leaders from the European Union, Arab League and African Union also attended.

Sarkozy also stressed that diplomacy was still an option.

"There's still time for Kadhafi to avoid the worst, by obeying without delay or reserve all the demands of the international community," Sarkozy said. "The door of diplomacy will reopen when the attacks end."

British Prime Minister David Cameron held Kadhafi responsible for the situation and that "the time for action" by the international community had come.

"Colonel Kadhafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He continues to brutalise his own people," Cameron told British television.

"And so the time for action has come. It needs to be urgent. We have to enforce the will of the United Nations and we cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue."

Sarkozy, Cameron and Clinton discussed sharing out the military roles ahead of the summit, sources said. France and Britain would focus on air strikes, while other NATO countries would police the no-fly zone, the sources said.

They were also to choose a top officer to lead the campaign.

Qatar and several European nations, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, on Saturday confirmed their will to take part in a UN-sanctioned military intervention in Libya, a diplomat said.

Western nations have called for strong Arab support for the military operation after Arab League foreign ministers called for the no-fly zone over Libya last week. In response, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa were to attend the summit.

In Brussels, NATO military and diplomatic chiefs met to work out their options.

A diplomat said the alliance was considering three possible missions: a humanitarian one that could include evacuation of refugees; enforcing the arms embargo; or putting into effect the UN-authorised no-fly zone.

Plans for the humanitarian mission have already been worked out while those for the other two would be ready by the end of the weekend, he said.

Whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will in fact play a role in the Libya operation remains uncertain, he said.

"The role and the place that NATO would take remains in suspense," he added, depending on the outcome of the Paris meeting.

A statement released by France and other allies late Friday said that "a ceasefire must be put in place immediately, that is, that all attacks against civilians must come to an end".

It demanded that Kadhafi forces halt their advance on the rebel capital of Benghazi and withdraw from the cities of Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah. "That is not negotiable," it warned.

If Kadhafi did not comply with the Security Council resolution, he would face "consequences" from the international community and "the resolution will be imposed by military means".

"Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Kadhafi would commit atrocities against his people," US President Barack Obama said Friday, reinforcing the international message. "Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue."

Kadhafi declared a ceasefire on Friday but Libyan rebels said fighting goes on.

© 2011 AFP

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