Britain, France press NATO allies on Libya strikes
Britain and France called on NATO allies Tuesday to pull their weight in the bombing mission in Libya in a sign of growing disquiet over the campaign as the conflict drags on.
NATO has led air strikes against Moamer Kadhafi's forces for almost two weeks since taking control of the operation from a US-led coalition that had been bombing the regime's heavy weaponry since March 19.
Under criticism from Libyan rebels over the pace of air strikes, the 28-nation alliance has picked up the tempo in recent days, destroying dozens of regime tanks threatening the besieged cities of Misrata and Ajdabiya since Friday.
"We must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters ahead of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
"That is why the United Kingdom has in the last week supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets threatening the civilian population of Libya," Hague said.
"Of course it would be welcome if other countries also do the same," he said. "There is always more to do."
Hague joined US Secretary Hillary Clinton's call for Kadhafi to step down.
"Of course, to have any viable, peaceful future for Libya, Colonel Kadhafi needs to leave," he said.
Britain, France and the United States launched the first salvos against the regime on March 19, after the United Nations authorised military action to stop Kadhafi from harming the population after he put down anti-government protests.
The United States pulled its combat jets from the frontline last week, leaving the bombing to European and Canadian allies as it withdrew into a support role by providing surveillance and refuelling planes.
France, which was sceptical about handing political control of the operation to NATO, urged allies in the 28-nation Western military organisation to do more to take out Kadhafi's military hardware.
"NATO must fully play its role, and it is not doing so sufficiently," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France Info radio.
He said he would bring the matter up with EU ministers on Tuesday and with NATO chief diplomats meeting in Berlin on Thursday.
As France and Britain pressed for more robust military action, the African Union fought to salvage its bid to broker a ceasefire in Libya.
Libya's strongman Moamer Kadhafi accepted the AU's plan but the rebels' leadership in the city of Benghazi argued the initiative was obsolete and insisted Kadhafi should be ousted.
Noting that Kadhafi has broken promises to hold ceasefires in the past, Hague said any cessation of hostilities would have to mean the withdrawal from pro-Kadhafi forces from towns and cities they are attacking.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Monday that the air raids would continue as long as the population remains under threat.
Thousands of lives have been saved in Libya thanks to the air strikes, preventing Kadhafi's forces from storming the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi three weeks ago, Hague said.
"A huge amount has been achieved in Libya but clearly there is more to be done," he said.
© 2011 AFP