China voices worry about Nato civilian casualties in Libya
China's vice-foreign minister Fu Ying has voiced concern that Nato's anti-Gaddafi operation will cause "even more civilian casualties" in Libya.
China's abstention in the UN Security Council vote on Libya on 18 March allowed the US-and-French-led international coalition to launch Operation Odyssey Dawn. Under a new agreement, Nato will this week take over military command and launch the second phase of action under the title 'Unified Protector.'
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When asked by EUobserver on Friday (25 March) at the Brussels Forum if China supports Nato's new role, the country's vice-foreign minister, Fu Ying, said: "We don't support military action against Libya, as we think this will cause even more civilian casualties."
Speaking earlier at the event, a symposium organised by US think-tank the German Marshall Fund, Fu explained: "We stayed away from a veto because the Arab League had very strong feelings about this [enforcing a no-fly zone] and we never vote against the interests of development countries."
She added that China's extraction of 36,000 Chinese nationals from Libya in just eight days was "the largest evacuation we've ever done" and a "wake-up call" on improving consular protection for the growing number of Chinese citizens living abroad.
On the economic impact of the Arab spring, China is worried that the longer the turmoil goes on, the more the "stability of supply and prices of oil and gas" will be affected.
Nato has meanwhile appointed a Canadian general, Charles Bouchard, to run military action. A Nato official described the last four days of hand-over talks in Brussels as "a madhouse," with France and Turkey at odds on issues including the mandate for hitting ground targets.
"The French wanted the coalition to stay in place forever, while the Turks wanted Nato to take over immediately. In the end, the compromise was that the transition would take a few days, so as to give more time to the coalition to do its raids," the source said.
A senior US official has said Nato will take over control not just of the no-fly zone and arms embargo, but also "protection of civilians" - which could include deployment of special forces and bombing of Gaddafi tanks.
The US official disagreed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Thursday statement that Nato will not have "operations on the ground" and that the original coalition countries will retain political control.
"There is an agreement that this operation will be commanded and controlled by Nato, and as such, it will be directed by the North Atlantic Council, which is the guiding and deciding body for any military operation that is conducted by Nato and under Nato," he explained.
A "contact group" of foreign ministers from the 12 coalition countries - Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Norway, Qatar, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and the US - is to meet in London on Tuesday. It has also invited the Arab League, the African Union and the United Nations.
In their seventh day of operations, coalition jets and warships on Friday launched missiles and dropped bombs on Gaddafi air defences, communication posts and troops.
More than half of the 96 airstrikes carried out in the last 24 hours were by American pilots, US admiral William E. Gortney said in a press briefing. "What we must focus on is limiting the regime's ability to inflict the harm by squeezing it and denying it the tools to do so," he added.