Supporters call for Libya no-fly vote

UN chief has urged all sides in Libya to accept an immediate ceasefire.

Updated: Mar 17, 2011, 08:34 AM IST

New York: Supporters of a no-fly zone over Libya called for a Security Council vote on Thursday on a UN resolution aimed at preventing Muammar Gaddafi’s planes from conducting aerial attacks on the Libyan people.

Britain and France put a draft resolution that would impose a no-fly zone in a final form late Wednesday. The text will be sent to capitals overnight and can still be changed before being put to a vote in the 15-member council.

China`s UN Ambassador Li Baodong, the current council president, told reporters "we hope we will have real progress tomorrow”.

Council ambassadors met behind closed doors to debate the text for more than eight hours on Wednesday, and said they would return on Thursday morning.

US Ambassador Susan Rice said the Obama administration is "fully focused on the urgency and the gravity of the situation on the ground, and it`s my hope that we may be in a position to vote a serious resolution as early as tomorrow. We`re working very hard toward that end."

"We are interested in a broad range of actions that will effectively protect civilians and increase the pressure on the Gaddafi regime to halt the killing and to allow the Libyan people to express themselves in their aspirations for the future freely and peacefully," she said. "Those include discussion of a no-fly zone, but the US view is that ... a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk."

An Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because council discussions are private, said the United States is discussing a range of other concrete steps with allies, both at the United Nations and at NATO. Among those additional steps are greater humanitarian aid, supporting the Libyan resistance with money from seized Gaddafi-related assets, and greater enforcement of the UN arms embargo on Libya.

The US goal is to prevent Gaddafi from massacring Libyans in Benghazi, the country`s second largest city now in rebel hands but expected to be one of the next targets of Gaddafi`s forces, the official said.

Russia`s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose government had expressed misgivings about a no-fly zone, proposed that the council vote first on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya. Rice said a majority of council members did not support a separate ceasefire resolution but said that a call for a ceasefire could be incorporated in the no-fly resolution.

"We were not rejecting at all the larger resolution," Churkin told reporters, adding that his country thought that the call for a cease-fire "could possibly prevent impending bloodshed in Libya”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier on Wednesday urged all sides in Libya to accept an immediate ceasefire.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban "is gravely concerned about the increasing military escalation by government forces, which include indications of an assault on the city of Benghazi."

The UN chief warned that "a campaign to bombard such an urban centre would massively place civilian lives at risk," Nesirky said.

Lebanon, France and Britain introduced the draft resolution on Tuesday afternoon, spurred by the Arab League`s urgent call for a no-fly zone.

While Russia and Germany expressed doubts, France pushed for rapid action with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe saying in Paris that several Arab countries have pledged to participate in possible military action in the North African country.

Libya`s deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who supports the opposition, said five Arab countries have offered support.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on leaders of the 14 other Security Council nations to "fully shoulder their responsibilities and give support to this initiative”.

"Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya," he wrote in a letter. "It is now a matter of days, if not hours. The worst would be that the appeal of the League of the Arab States and the Security Council decisions be overruled by the force of arms."

With Gaddafi`s forces intensifying their attacks, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a visit to Egypt on Wednesday that the Obama administration is consulting with the Arab League "about their understanding of the goals and modalities of a no-fly zone as well as other forms of support."

"We believe that this must be an international effort and that there has to be decisions made in the Security Council in order for any of these steps to go forward," she said.

Libya`s Dabbashi told reporters he expects a no-fly resolution to be adopted, with a provision that will also allow air strikes.

He stressed the urgency of council action, saying according to information the Libyan Mission has received, Gaddafi is preparing for two operations: One against the eastern city of Ajdabiya, which is already under siege using mercenaries in more than 400 vehicles that are already en route, and one against mountain villages in the west where tanks, heavy artillery and other weapons are being gathered for an assault.

The latest push for a ban on flights in Libya came as Gaddafi`s forces intensified offensives in the east and the west on Wednesday with relentless shelling aimed at routing rebel holdouts.

Bureau Report