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Britain refuses to rule out targeting Gaddafi

Last Updated: Monday, March 21, 2011 - 16:17

London: Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday refused to rule out targeting Muammar Gaddafi in air strikes against Libya, saying it depended on "circumstances at the time".

He was speaking after Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the Libyan leader may be a legitimate target of international military action, which began on Saturday to enforce a UN-imposed ceasefire and no-fly zone to protect civilians.

"The targeting that we do on these kinds of strikes will always be in accordance with the UN resolution and that of course emphasises the protection of the civilian population," Hague told BBC radio.

"I`m not going to get drawn into the details of what or who might be targeted."

Asked whether Britain had the authority to kill Gaddafi if he continues to attack his own people, Hague replied: "I`m not going to speculate on the targets... that depends on the circumstances at the time."

On Sunday, Fox was asked whether Gaddafi was a legitimate target.

"Well, that would potentially be a possibility but you mention immediately one of the problems we would have, which is that you would have to take into account any civilian casualties that might result from that," he told the BBC.

In response to Fox`s comments, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said it would be "unwise" to have coalition forces try to kill Gaddafi.

"I think that it`s important that we operate within the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution," he told reporters on a flight to Russia.

He said the military intervention was backed by "a very diverse coalition" and warned: "If we start adding additional objectives then I think we create a problem in that respect."

Meanwhile, British Tornado jets pulled back from attacking Libyan air defence systems overnight because of a fear of hitting civilians, the Ministry of Defence said on Monday.

Royal Air Force (RAF) planes approached a target but decided not to launch their weapons because of information that there were civilians in the area, military spokesman Major General John Lorimer said.

Late Sunday, Britain launched guided Tomahawk land attack missiles from a Trafalgar class submarine in the Mediterranean, in the country`s second intervention in international military action in Libya.

"British armed forces, as authorised by the UN Security Council resolution 1973, carried out another coordinated mission in Libya tonight," Lorimer, a spokesman for the chief of defence staff, said in a statement overnight.

"As the RAF GR4 Tornados approached the target, further information came to light that identified a number of civilians within the intended target area. As a result the decision was taken not to launch weapons.”

"This decision underlines the UK`s commitment to the protection of civilians."

The military action is being taken under Thursday`s UN resolution which authorised the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians and enforce a ceasefire and no-fly zone against Gaddafi`s forces.

Tripoli has reported dozens of deaths in the assault, which began with a French strike on Saturday afternoon, but the coalition disputes this.

Bureau Report

First Published: Monday, March 21, 2011 - 16:17
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