Britain slams talk of 'cavalier' raids over Libya

23rd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A British defence minister on Wednesday slammed as "rubbish" allegations that pilots carrying out UN-mandated air strikes in Libya have a cavalier approach to civilian casualties.

Minister for international security strategy Gerald Howarth was responding to a question from an Indonesian reporter during a visit to Jakarta to attend a defence conference.

"Any idea that there is some sort of cavalier approach is absolute rubbish, there is not," Howarth said when the reporter for local news weekly Tempo told him that "many civilians have become the victims" of UN-authorised air strikes.

"I repeat the purpose of this is to protect the civilian population. Why therefore would we be engaging in anything which threatens the civilian population?"

He noted that two British Tornado jets had pulled back from attacking Libyan air defence systems because "they saw civilians near the target."

British and French aircraft were equipped with "some extremely accurate weapons ... designed to limit collateral damage," he added.

Howarth said that without the international air campaign Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's forces would have bombarded and captured the rebel-held eastern town of Benghazi.

The military action is being taken under a UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians and enforce a ceasefire and no-fly zone in the north African country.

Kadhafi's spokesmen say the bombing has resulted in civilian casualties but the coalition -- including Britain, Canada, France and the United States -- denies this.

"People should take great encouragement from the UN because the United Nations was able to respond ... It would have been a dereliction of duty not to have responded," Howarth said.

"The people in Benghazi undoubtedly owe their protection to the actions of the coalition... and ultimately to the United Nations."

China and Russia -- which did not use their vetoes to block the UN resolution -- on Tuesday said the air strikes were causing civilian casualties and called for an immediate ceasefire.

In talks with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev voiced dismay over what he called the "indiscriminate use of force" by coalition aircraft in Libya.

Gates responded to reporters that it was "almost as though some people here are taking at face value Kadhafi's ... outright lies."

© 2011 AFP

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