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No UN mandate was approved to attack Libya

Reuters
March 28, 2011

Russia said on Monday attacks on forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi amounted to intervention in a civil war and were not backed by the U.N. resolution authorising no-fly zones.

In the latest Russian criticism of military action by the Western-led coalition, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council on March 17 had the sole aim of protecting Libyan civilians.

“And yet there are reports — and nobody denies them — of coalition strikes on columns of Gaddafi’s forces, reports about support for actions by the armed insurgents,” Lavrov said. “There are clear contradictions here.”

“We consider that intervention by the coalition in what is essentially an internal civil war is not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council resolution,” Lavrov said when asked about Libya at a news conference with the Kyrgyz foreign minister.

Russia has veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council but chose not to block the resolution, which authorised “all necessary measures to enforce compliance” with no-fly zones.

However, Russian leaders have expressed concern that the resolution gave coalition forces too much leeway and the intervention was causing civilian deaths. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the resolution to “medieval calls for crusades”.

Lavrov did not say whether Russia would make any effort to restrict operations by the coalition, which is now led by NATO.

In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said “the coalition of participating countries is strictly complying with the terms” of the resolution and the U.N. secretary-general was regularly informed of the measures being taken.

Lavrov’s remarks, hours before U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to define the mission’s purpose and scope in an address, suggested Russia could step up criticism if the coalition took steps Moscow believed went further beyond its mandate.

In Libya, rebels emboldened by Western-led air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces pushed west along the Mediterranean coast to retake a series of towns.

Obama’s administration has praised Russia for allowing the resolution to go through but has clashed with the Kremlin over the subject of civilian casualties.

In Moscow last week, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said some Russians seemed to take what he termed Gaddafi’s “lies” about civilian casualties at face value.

Lavrov reiterated Russia’s concern about reports of civilian casualties, which he said had not yet been confirmed, and indicated Russia wanted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib to look into them.

Lavrov said Russia’s concerns about the broad authority granted to foreign powers enforcing the no-fly zone were among the reasons it abstained in the Security Council vote.

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U.N. okays military action on Libya

Military action could come within hours

Reuters

The United Nations authorised military action to curb Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday, hours after he threatened to storm the rebel bastion of Benghazi overnight, showing “no mercy, no pity.”

“We will come, zenga, zenga. House by house, room by room,” he said in a radio address to the eastern city.

Al Jazeera television showed thousands of Benghazi residents in a central square celebrating the U.N. vote, waving anti-Gaddafi tricolour flags and chanting defiance of the man who has ruled for four decades. Fireworks burst over the city.

Gaddafi had warned that only those who lay down their arms would be spared vengeance to be exacted on ‘rats and dogs’.

“It’s over. The issue has been decided,” Gaddafi said. “We are coming tonight…We will find you in your closets.

“We will have no mercy and no pity.”

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution endorsing a no-fly zone to halt government troops now around 100 km (60 miles) from Benghazi. It also authorised “all necessary measures” — code for military action — to protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces.

But time was clearly running short for the city that has been the heart of Libya’s revolution.

Residents said the Libyan air force unleashed three air raids on the city of 670,000 on Thursday and there has been fierce fighting along the Mediterranean coastal road as Gaddafi moves to crush the month-old insurrection.

French diplomatic sources said military action could come within hours, and could include France, Britain and possibly the United States and one or more Arab states; but a U.S. military official said no immediate U.S. action was expected following the vote.

Ten of the Council’s 15 member states voted in favour of the resolution, with Russia, China and Germany among the five that abstained. There were no votes against the resolution, which was co-sponsored by France, Britain, Lebanon and the United States.

Rebel National Council head Mustafa Abdel Jalil told Al Jazeera television air strikes were essential to stop Gaddafi.

“We stand on firm ground. We will not be intimidated by these lies and claims… We will not settle for anything but liberation from this regime.”

It was unclear if Gaddafi’s threat to seize the city in the night was anything more than bluster. But at the very least it increased the sense that a decisive moment had come in an uprising that only months ago had seemed inconceivable.

Some in the Arab world sense a Gaddafi victory could turn the tide in the region, weakening pro-democracy movements that have unseated autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and raised mass protests in Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.

RETALIATION

By late evening, telephone lines to Benghazi and internet connections appeared to be cut.

Gaddafi’s Defence Ministry warned of swift retaliation, even beyond Libyan frontiers, if the U.N. voted for military action against the oil-exporting nation.

“Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military (facilities) will become targets of Libya’s counter-attack,” the ministry said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by a Reuters reporter in Benghazi, Michael Georgy in Tripoli, Mariam Karouny and Tarek Amara in Tunisia, Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations, John Irish in Paris; writing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Louise Ireland)