21st Oct 2018

Arab decision boosts prospect of EU military action in Libya

  • Slogan on wall in Tahrir Square, Cairo, where the Arab League met on Staurday (Photo: Mahmoud Saber)

The Arab League has given the green light for Western powers to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, prompting France to step up its campaign for military action.

The 22-member league in a resolution on Saturday (12 March) called for the UN Security Council to quickly issue a mandate for a no-fly zone in Libya following a meeting at its office in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the main stage of last month's revolution in Egypt.

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Secretary general Amr Moussa said the move is needed to "protect Libyan citizens" and to "maintain the safety and sovereignty of neighbouring nations."

Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for rebel leaders under the banner of the Libyan National Council in Benghazi, said following the decision: "We hope the Europeans will deliver now. This changes things a lot ... We hope it will change the American position, but most of all the European position."

The Arab move prompted France to say it will use a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in Paris on Monday and Tuesday to canvass support for intervention.

"France will accelerate its efforts, in the coming hours, in concertation with its partners in the EU, Arab League, United Nations Security Council and the Libyan transitional national council," French foreign minister Alain Juppe said.

"It is not about installing a government in Libya, it is simply about having the means to protect the population if a massacre were to happen, imagine if Benghazi were to be bombed, for example."

The secretary general of the ruling French UMP party, Jean-Francois Cope, noted that the Arab call for outside intervention represents a shift in east-west relations.

"This is a major political event," he said.

Pointing out that Colonel Gaddafi's forces continued to push back rebels over the weekend, he added: "One can see the planes ... and the tanks of the Libyan army ... being used against the trucks and rifles [of the resistance]."

UK foreign minister Wiliam Hague also welcomed the Arab resolution. "The G8 foreign ministers [event] ... will be an opportunity to widen the international coalition addressing the crisis in Libya," he said.

The Arab League development comes after the UK and France failed to persuade no-fly sceptics at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle continued to voice concern at an informal EU foreign ministers' meeting in Godollo, Hungary, on Saturday, before going to the G8 event. "We don't want to get pulled into a war in North Africa," he explained. "I don't think it's healthy when Europe talks about other countries, instead of with those countries."

German ally Austria called for an EU fact-finding mission to visit the rebel stronghold in Beghazi.

Italy and Malta, Libya's closest EU neighbours, also remain reticent. Maltese foreign minister Tonio Borg and Italy's Franco Frattini said the Union should instead try to broker an immediate ceasefire.

"Stop the fighting and then we shall see what happens," Mr Borg said in Godollo.

For his part, the former UN envoy to Bosnia, British Liberal politician Paddy Ashdown, in an op-ed in the Financial Times on Sunday compared the situation to the genocide in Bosnia in the 1990s.

"In 1991, we were told that the Yugoslav crises would prove 'the hour of Europe' had arrived. It hadn't. Europe proved itself divided and impotent," he wrote. "It is difficult not to feel a wearisome sense of deja vu watching European leaders on Friday saying something needed to be done in Libya, but failing completely to say what."

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