Ras Lanuf: Britain and France said they were seeking U.N. authority for a no-fly zone over Libya, as Muammar Gaddafi's warplanes counter-attacked against rebels and aid officials said a million people were in need.
Rebels swiftly rejected an olive branch offered by an associate of Gaddafi, and fighting escalated around a key oil port. The aging autocrat warned that if he fell thousands of refugees would "invade Europe."
With civilians surrounded by forces loyal to Gaddafi in two western towns, Misrata and Zawiyah, fears grew of a rising humanitarian crisis if the fighting continued.
U.N. aid coordinator Valerie Amos said more than a million people fleeing or inside the country needed humanitarian aid.
"Humanitarian organisations need urgent access now," she said. "People are injured and dying and need help immediately."
The U.N. appealed for financial support totaling $160 million to fund an operation over the next three months to get shelter, food and medicines ready.
"We are working closely with partners on a contingency basis on elements of a resolution on a no-fly zone, making clear the need for regional support, a clear trigger for such a resolution and an appropriate legal basis," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.
A French diplomatic source said France was "working with our partners in New York on a no-fly zone resolution." Gulf states called for a no-fly zone and for an urgent Arab League meeting.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting Afghanistan where foreign forces have been fighting for a decade, cautioned any action in Libya "should be the result of international sanction." The White House said all options were on the table, including arming rebels.
Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto powers, said it opposed foreign military intervention. "The Libyans have to solve their problems by themselves," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stressed the need for UN authorization. "I can't imagine the international community and the United Nations would stand idly by if Gaddafi and his regime continue to attack their own people," he said.
"We have asked our military to conduct all necessary planning so that we stand ready at short notice," he added.
NATO has launched 24-hour air surveillance of Libya with AWACS reconnaissance aircraft, U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said.
Daalder said NATO representatives were discussing other possible moves, including a no-fly zone and helping to enforce the U.N.-mandated arms embargo on Libya, ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday.
Western leaders, however, are anxious to avoid another drawn-out military commitment after the Iraq and Afghan wars.
First Published: Tuesday, March 08, 2011, 12:04