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U.N. Set to Take International Lead in Post-Gaddafi Libya

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2011 (IPS) - The United Nations appears poised to play a major role in Libya in the coming days and months. It remains unclear, however, if the world body will be able to restore peace and democracy in that conflict-ridden oil-rich country, independent analysts and diplomats say.

“The people are suffering. We feel their pain,” said Li Baodong, China’s ambassador to the U.N., in response to a question from IPS about the continuing North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) air strikes in Libya and a proposed U.N. plan to send military advisers there.

The NATO mandate is due to expire at the end of September, and it is expected that the U.N. Security Council will approve a new resolution to give the world body the lead international role in rebuilding Libya after nearly seven months of fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

A document obtained by Inner City Press, a web-based news site that covers the U.N., suggests that about 200 military observers and 190 U.N. police might be deployed in Libya in the coming days.

U.N. officials told IPS that there was no final determination yet on the U.N. role. “(There are) adjustments being made,” said Farhan Haq, the acting spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Both China and Russia have consistently held that the Libyan conflict should be resolved by peaceful dialogue, and that military intervention would not be productive in maintaining peace and stability in that country.

“There should be an end to that fight as soon as possible,” Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the U.N., told reporters this week after coming out of the Security Council talks on the future of Libya.

But Ban and Western powers continue to reject that argument and remain determined to support the opposition forces in Libya, despite the fact that rights groups have cited violations of human rights by both sides in the conflict.

Rebels gained control of key areas of the country last week, and have issued an ultimatum to Gaddafi to surrender or face an all-out military assault on the stronghold of Sirte.

On Tuesday, Ban said he was “encouraged by events on the ground” and told the Security Council, “I think we can now hope for a quick conclusion to the conflict and an end to the suffering of Libyan people.”

Critics say Ban is ignoring non-Western nations’ concerns about the Libyan situation and siding with the most powerful Western nations who dominate the decision-making process at the Security Council and have their eye on Libya’s oil wealth.

“This was a call for protection of civilians,” said James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, a think tank in New York, of U.N. resolution 1973 adopted in March that formed the legal basis for military intervention in the civil war, demanding “an immediate ceasefire” and authorising the international community to establish a no-fly zone and to use all means necessary short of foreign occupation to protect civilians.

“It’s sad. It’s not a genuine response. It’s a moment of frenzy created somewhere else,” Paul said, reflecting on the role the U.N. and NATO are playing in Libya. “Do we really see any responsible government coming to power in Libya? We don’t know.”

Paul, who has spent several decades monitoring U.N. policy around the world, holds that the opposition leadership in Libya, known as the National Transitional Council, should not be blindly supported by the United Nations.

“This reveals how morally weak is this leadership in Libya,” he said, alluding to the fact that the Western-backed opposition in Libya characterised it as an “act of aggression” that the Algerian government gave safe haven to Gaddafi’s pregnant daughter earlier this week.

Asked about Ban’s take on this matter, his spokesperson told IPS: “We don’t have any comments.”

The U.N. chief is due to hold a meeting with Libyan opposition leaders in Paris Thursday, which will be chaired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

On Aug. 25, the U.N. Sanctions Committee released 1.5 billion dollars in Libyan assets held in U.S. banks, which Washington was earmarking for the rebels in Libya.

Meanwhile, rights groups observing the conflict say that abuses are occurring on both sides.

People suspected of having fought for Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, in particular black Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans, are at high risk of abuse by anti-Gaddafi forces, Amnesty International said in an Aug. 30 report.

A delegation in the country visiting the Central Tripoli Hospital witnessed three opposition fighters dragging a black patient from the western town of Tawargha from his bed and detaining him.

The delegation also witnessed a group of rebels beating a man outside the hospital. The man, in distress, was reportedly shouting “I am not a fifth columnist,” as Gaddafi loyalists are known.

“Within an hour, Amnesty International witnessed one man being hit and one dragged out of his hospital bed to an unknown fate,” said Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty.

“We have to fear for what may be happening to detainees out of the sight of independent observers,” he added.

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