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Seeking role in Libya NATO enforces arms embargo

23 march 2011, 13:54
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Tengrinews.kz stock photo
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Tengrinews.kz stock photo
NATO agreed Tuesday to use naval and air power to enforce an arms embargo on Libya, but allies remained at odds over whether to give the alliance control of the international military campaign, AFP reports.

After days of heated debate, the 28-nation defence organization also agreed to endorse operational plans to help enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, after Turkey dropped objections, but it must still decide whether to activate it.

US, French and British warplanes and warships have led the strikes against Moamer Kadhafi's regime since Saturday, but Britain, Canada, Italy and several other allies want NATO to take command of the operations.

France, which has resisted calls to give NATO control of the mission, called for the creation of a special political committee of foreign ministers from coalition countries to oversee the operations, with Arab participation.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the committee had the support of Britain and would "meet in the coming days in Brussels, London or Paris, and continue to meet regularly to show clearly that political oversight is there".

NATO ambassadors meeting in Brussels agreed to give the alliance a role in enforcing the UN embargo, but they were unable to reach an agreement on command of the operations.

The alliance said the top operational commander, Admiral James Stavridis, is activating ships and aircraft in the central Mediterranean to enforce the UN-mandated arms embargo.

The NATO forces will monitor, report and, if needed, "interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries", said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"All allies are committed to meet their responsibilities under the United Nations resolution to stop the intolerable violence against Libyan civilians," Rasmussen said.

He said NATO had completed plans to help enforce the no-fly zone "to bring our contribution, if needed, in a clearly defined manner, to the broad international effort to protect the people of Libya from the violence of the Kadhafi regime".

But it will take a few more days for NATO to decide whether to activate its participation in the no-fly zone, or take command of military operations, diplomats said.

With the United States eager to hand over command of the mission as soon as possible, US President Barack Obama said Monday he expected NATO would play a role in coordinating the next phase of action within days, rather than weeks.

France is resisting handing the baton to NATO in Libya, however, fearing a backlash from Arab nations that it wants to bring into the campaign. The Arab League has backed the no-fly zone and Qatar is contributing warplanes.

Turkey had blocked the approval of NATO operational plans for a no-fly zone over Libya on Sunday, as it criticised the scope of the Western-led operation, which has included strikes on Kadhafi forces.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruled out any combat mission for Turkey, saying "it is impossible for us to think that our fighters drop bombs over Libyan people".

Germany has also refused to join the intervention in Libya, abstaining from voting for the UN Security Council resolution that approved "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians from Kadhafi forces last week.

The temperature went up a notch on Monday when Rasmussen criticised the French and German positions during a closed-door meeting of NATO envoys, prompting the German and French ambassadors to walk out, NATO sources said.

Frustrated by the lack of decision, Italy warned it could take back control of bases used by the coalition on its territory if NATO did not take over.

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