Britain, France push NATO allies to step up in Libya

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Britain and France pressed NATO allies Tuesday to step up air raids in Libya by deploying more combat jets to protect civilians, as rebels claimed Moamer Kadhafi's regime killed 10,000 people.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, complaining that NATO was not doing enough, said it was unacceptable for the rebel-held city of Misrata "to continue to come under fire from bombs" launched by Kadhafi loyalists.

"I hope other countries will come to relieve us," said Juppe, whose country had been reluctant to hand command of the campaign to NATO, after a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

After talks with the EU ministers, Ali Al Isawi, a representative of Libya's rebel National Transition Council, said that Kadhafi forces have killed 10,000 people, while 20,000 were missing and 30,000 wounded.

"We want more efforts regarding protection of civilians against this aggression," he said after the first meeting between the opposition group and the 27-nation bloc.

French defence minister Gerard Longuet complained that Paris and London, the nations that launched the first salvos against Kadhafi's regime on March 19, have been left to bear "the bulk of the effort."

He noted that the United States was now only providing logistical support to the operation after withdrawing its combat jets last week.

"Today we have no support in the ground attack role, without which there's no chance of breaking the siege of towns like Misrata or Zenten," he told the French parliament.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, taking a less forceful tone, noted that London had supplied additional ground-attack aircraft and said he would "welcome if other countries also do the same."

"We must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO," Hague said.

After earlier criticism from Libyan rebels over the pace of strikes, a NATO general said the alliance was doing a "great job" with the assets available to the Western military organisation.

NATO has led air strikes against Kadhafi's forces for almost two weeks since taking over from a US-led coalition that began bombing the regime's heavy weaponry on March 19.

"NATO absolutely wanted to lead this operation at the military level, well, now I trust Mr. Rasmussen to gather the necessary assets," Juppe said, referring to NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Juppe said he would raise his concerns at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin on Thursday and Friday.

Spanish junior minister for European affairs, Diego Lopez Garrido, however, said more contributions were "not necessary.

Italy said it was considering taking a direct role in strikes, but that its principal concern was the safety of civilians on the ground.

EU foreign ministers also discussed whether to throw EU military resources behind humanitarian aid delivery to Misrata.

Although NATO has 28 members, not all of them have the capability or desire to take part in the strikes, especially Turkey and Germany, which were opposed to any military intervention from the start.

"With the assets we have, we are doing a great job," General Mark van Uhm, NATO's chief of allied operations, said in Brussels.

Van Uhm said it was up to individual nations to decide what they contribute and how their military assets are used by NATO commanders. "If you get more, you can do more," he said.

Spain and the Netherlands, for instance, have offered fighter jets but their roles are limited to patrolling a no-fly zone. Kadhafi's air force was obliterated by the US-led coalition.

In addition to France and Britain, which have respectively contributed 29 and 10 attack planes, Belgium, Denmark, Canada and Norway are known to be actively taking part in strike missions.

© 2011 AFP

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