French planes hit Libya as Paris says UN vote respected

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France said Sunday that it had deployed "more than 15 aircraft" in weekend ground strikes against Moamer Kadhafi's regime while strictly respecting the terms of a UN resolution on Libya.

"More than 15 aircraft were engaged (on Saturday), representing a wide range of (French) air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities," Colonel Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the military general staff, told a news conference.

He said the planes had conducted "air defence (operations) and ground support, refuelling, air surveillance and detection."

Defence ministry spokesman Laurent Teissere meanwhile insisted that France was "fully" applying the UN resolution after Arab League criticism of military operations in the north African country.

"Yesterday's operation was effective (and encountered) no particular difficulties," Teissere said.

French forces did not carry out any air strikes on Sunday because "where we are operating there was no threat against the civilian population," Teissere told reporters.

The Arab League condemned the Western military strikes, a week after urging the United Nations to slap a no-fly zone on the oil-rich north African state.

"What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians," Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa told reporters in Cairo.

But Teissere said Sunday: "France is fully and only implementing (UN) resolution 1973," adding: "We are clearly within the framework of the resolution. I believe that our partners have said as much. I have nothing else to add."

He said that the only aim of French operations was to protect civilians by implementing the UN resolution.

Teissere noted what he called a "crucial point," that Qatar had decided to deploy four planes to take part in the international campaign. "This shows the Arab participation in this operation," he said.

In response to claims from Tripoli that 48 people had been killed in coalition attacks, Teissere said that no civilian casualties had been caused by French strikes.

He also denied claims that a French plane had been downed.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy met late Sunday with Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Defence Minister Gerard Longuet and chief of the defence staff Edouard Guillaud to dicuss events. No statement was expected.

Fillon had earlier visted the defence ministry command and control centre and said he was pleased by the "successes already recorded" after the coalition intervention.

The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle left the southern port of Toulon on Sunday for the seas off Libya with 2,000 crew. It should take 24 hours to reach its destination but will need more time for the 20 aircraft it can carry to meet it and conduct landing exercises.

© 2011 AFP

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