G8 shies away from Libya intervention

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Group of Eight powers shied away from military action to protect Libyans from assault by ruler Moamer Kadhafi's forces, laying it off to the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

France and Britain had been pushing for intervention to ground Libyan warplanes and France had even talked of targeted air strikes against Kadhafi's strategic sites.

"For the moment I have not convinced them," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Europe 1 radio, after trying to rally fellow G8 foreign ministers at a dinner on Monday night.

They agreed instead "to immediately relaunch a discussion at the UN Security Council, and that is under way today, to take up a resolution and raise the pressure against the Kadhafi regime."

Juppe said Kadhafi was outgunning Libya's rebels, whom the leader of four decades has driven out of several towns with shelling and airstrikes. France had led a drive for a no-fly zone to prevent this.

"Kadhafi is scoring points," Juppe said. "We have perhaps missed a chance to restore the balance," he added, judging that there was nothing to stop Kadhafi seizing the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

A senior US official told reporters there was a "sense of urgency" at Monday's dinner about the humanitarian and political situation in Libya.

Some ministers talked of no-fly zones, others "safety zones," and others talked of further sanctions, he added. They agreed on the need to "increase pressure" on Kadhafi and "stop the regime from using force" against Libyans.

In a no-fly zone, US and NATO warplanes would ground Kadhafi's air power to protect civilians and the opposition -- but would likely need hundreds of planes to police the skies over Libya's vast territory.

The plan was backed by the 22-nation Arab League, considered crucial for dealing with the region.

Britain and France, which are drafting a resolution for the Security Council, failed to convince their European Union partners and permanent Security Council members Russia and the United States.

"We are very sceptical," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said of an eventual no-fly zone. If it did not work, the next step would be the deployment of ground troops. "That should be avoided at all costs," he said.

"I don't want Germany to be drawn permanently into a war in North Africa," he said.

China, the only veto-wielding member of the Security Council not represented at the Paris G8 talks, also opposes a no-fly zone.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed that the G8 was not the right forum for taking a decision, which should be up to the UN.

"There is a need for further measures... to respond to the call from the Arab League for measures to protect the civil population in Libya. How we do that is going to require further discussion at the UN Security Council," he said.

"The G8 is not the decision making body. Of course it is an important forum, but it is not the decision making body."

The Libyan opposition national council's representative Mahmoud Jibril and his delegation have been seeking formal support abroad and a no-fly zone.

France has taken the lead in formally recognising the council as Libya's legitimate representatives. The United States and the European Union have hesitated to formally recognise them, seeking to know more about them first.

Clinton held a 45-minute "private and candid" conversation with Jibril about how Washington could support the opposition against Kadhafi, her top aide Philippe Reines told reporters.

She stopped short of agreeing to Jibril's request to supply the weapons with arms to fight Kadhafi's forces, said an official who asked not to be named.

A senior US official later said the United States had named as its special envoy to the council Chris Stevens, previously its deputy chief of mission in Tripoli.

"The intention is for him to go to Benghazi," a senior administration official told reporters.


© 2011 AFP

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