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U.N. Body Authorises Military Intervention in Libya

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2011 (IPS) - As Libyan leader Muammar el-Gaddafi’s fighter planes and helicopters continue to mercilessly pound civilians and rebel groups inside Libya, the U.N.’s most powerful political body voted to militarily intervene in the besieged North African country in an attempt to prevent and neutralise the attacks.

Libyan rebels near Benghazi: no-fly zone is intended to prevent use of aircraft against them. Credit:  Gratine de Moustier/IRIN

Libyan rebels near Benghazi: no-fly zone is intended to prevent use of aircraft against them. Credit: Gratine de Moustier/IRIN

The resolution, which was adopted Thursday by a vote of 10- 0, called not only for an “immediate cease-fire” but also the establishment of a “no-fly zone” in Libyan airspace, thereby threatening the country’s heavily-equipped air force.

Armed mostly with Soviet-made Sukhoi Su-24 and MiG-25 fighter bombers, French-supplied Mirages and Aerospatiale helicopters, the air force is expected to come under attack by fighter planes largely from the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

In Thursday’s vote, five countries in the 15-member Security Council decided to abstain: China, Russia, India, Brazil and Germany.

Any contemplated military action by the international community will be taken with the blessings of the secretary- general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and the secretary- general of the League of Arab States Amr Moussa.

The 22-member League of Arab States has already adopted a resolution calling for a no-fly zone over Libya.

As a result, Arab states are also expected provide fighter planes to enforce the no-fly zone against another Arab state: a rare occurrence.

The Security Council resolution adopted Thursday was a “powerful response to the call from the League of Arab States”, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told delegates.

The resolution authorises the 192 member states to “take all necessary measures” – a euphemism for military intervention – to protect civilians and populated areas under threat of attack, including Benghazi, which is on the verge of falling into the hands of Gaddafi’s forces.

The resolution, which excludes the deployment of an “occupation force” inside Libya, also “deplores the continuing flow of mercenaries” hired by Libya, mostly from African countries.

Ban has also taken a strong stand criticising Libya’s violent reaction against civilian demonstrators. He warned against an attack on the rebel-held city of Benghazi which could endanger a huge number of civilians.

“The secretary-general is gravely concerned about the increasing military escalation by government forces, which include indications of an assault on the city of Benghazi,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.

Ban also cautioned against the campaign to bombard an urban centre which would “massively place civilian lives at risk”.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told delegates there is very little time to act. “It’s a matter of hours, not days,” he said, as Libya prepared to attack civilians in Benghazi.

“We cannot abandon civilians who are victims of brutal repression,” he said.

Juppe said France and other countries are ready to put into action the resolution of the Security Council.

“It’s very important that Arab countries become involved in the intervention when it takes place,” he noted.

Hours before the resolution was adopted, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the international community, and especially the Security Council, has a responsibility to use necessary and appropriate measures to protect civilians from large-scale atrocities.

“The possible capture of Benghazi heightens concerns of more abuses as we’ve seen elsewhere in Libya, including killings and disappearances,” HRW said in a statement released Thursday.

Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, said: “The world should not ignore the serious abuses by Libyan security forces over the past month, as well as Gaddafi’s demonstrated disregard for human rights over four decades.”

Since the Libyan uprising began on Feb. 17, Human Rights Watch has documented cases in which government forces opened fire on peaceful protesters and the arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of scores of people, she added.

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