Sarkozy threatens Libya air strikes: source

10th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy favours air strikes on Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's command base, a source said Thursday, as France became the first country to formally embrace Libya's rebels.

At an EU summit he will propose "striking an extremely limited number of points which are the source of the most deadly operations" by Kadhafi's forces, said a source close to discussions, who asked not to be named.

The three sites being considered are Kadhafi's Bab al-Azizia command headquarters in Tripoli, a military air base in Syrte, east of Tripoli and another in Sebha in the south, the source added.

NATO defence ministers met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the conflict, with major powers divided on how to proceed.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance stands ready to act if there is a clear mandate. Washington wants any military action to be under the NATO banner, with Arab regional backing.

But a French diplomat told AFP Wednesday that "alongside Britain, we are working on what could be done without NATO. The sight of the NATO flag would be provocative."

France along with Britain is working at the UN Security Council on a possible resolution for a no-fly zone over Libya, but that plan has met resistance from Russia and China who favour non-interference.

Sarkozy's office declined to confirm the claim about Sarkozy's air strike proposals. "We are not there yet. We are first going to ask for legal authorisation to prevent the use of force by Kadhafi," an official told AFP.

France Thursday seized the initiative against Kadhafi, formally recognising the Libyan rebels' national council as the country's legitimate representative and planning to send an ambassador to rebel territory, after Sarkozy met with its envoys Ali al-Issawi and Mahmud Jibril in Paris.

Libya's official news agency Jana quoted a foreign ministry official as saying in response that Libya was planning to cut its diplomatic relations with France for its "dangerous intervention in Libyan affairs."

Libyan state television meanwhile relayed reports "of a grave secret that will trigger the fall of Sarkozy, maybe his trial, in connection with fundings for his presidential campaign."

The European Union leadership has hesitated to recognise the rebels, pending the summit on Friday at which EU leaders will urgently discuss the Libyan crisis.

Germany has taken a more cautious line and Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister of Italy which is Libya's former colonial ruler and has close diplomatic and economic ties with Tripoli, said it was better to wait for a joint EU position.

Sarkozy is expected to present to EU leaders a sweeping plan for Libya which French officials said will include boosting aid to those in the rebel area caught in fighting and a possible embargo on its key oil exports.

"France is acting as the icebreaker in the European Union," said Moustapha Gheriani, a spokesman for the Libyan opposition in the rebels' eastern stronghold of Benghazi.

France's stand on the Libyan crisis follows heavy criticism of its handling of recent popular uprisings that ousted two North African leaders with whom it had warm ties: Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

Sarkozy hosted Kadhafi on a lavish state visit to France in 2007.

© 2011 AFP

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