No-fly zone supporters demand UN vote
France, Britain and the United States pressed for a UN Security Council vote on Thursday on a no fly zone to halt Moamer Kadhafi's attacks on rebels.
While China, Russia, Germany and other members of the 15-member council have expressed opposition or doubts about military action in Libya, the United States said even stronger measures than a no-fly zone may be needed.
A draft resolution which includes a no-fly zone has been put forward for a vote on Thursday. Britain, France and the United States had acted "to put pressure on the council to act quickly and decisively," said one diplomat, announcing the move.
Final talks will be held before a vote and the draft could still be changed, diplomats from the three countries acknowledged.
Russia made a counter proposition for a ceasefire resolution as a stop-gap before a full sanctions measure, the country's envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters. But this did not get enough support for a vote.
Pressure on the council mounted as Libya's deputy UN envoy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has turned against Kadhafi, said "the international community has to act within the next 10 hours."
He said he had information that Kadhafi forces, backed by hundreds of mercenaries from Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Burundi and Chad, were preparing major offensives in eastern and western Chad.
US ambassador Susan Rice said the council was discussing "a range of actions," including a no-fly zone.
But she added: "We need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk."
Kadhafi's forces have inflicted several defeats on rebels in recent days and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also hinted at a hardening Washington stance earlier when she said the United States wanted a vote by the end of Thursday.
France and Britain had led the demands for a no-fly zone and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote to the heads of state or government of all the other council members seeking urgent backing for the measure.
"Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya. It is now a matter of days, if not hours," he said in the letter.
The UN Security Council ordered a travel ban and assets freeze against the Kadhafi regime on February 26. Sarkozy said that since then "the Libyan regime has ignored the unanimous demands of the council and has continued its murderous actions against its population."
The no-fly zone is backed by the Arab League and the ambassador for Lebanon, the Arab representative on the Security Council, said several Arab states were ready to take part in the operation. He did not identify any states, however.
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 the Lebanese envoy Nawaf Salam as he pressed for a tough resolution.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon 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," which was passed on February 26.
© 2011 AFP