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West faces hard choices on way forward in Libya - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Western powers committed to helping rebels overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi face increasingly difficult choices on the military, economic and diplomatic front as the conflict enters its third month.

Analysts said NATO may have to intensify attacks on government forces to break the military stalemate in the North African country, while plans to help the rebels earn revenue from its oil riches are bogged down by U.N. sanctions.

The United Nations meanwhile is making slow progress in its efforts to ease the plight of civilians trapped in the conflict.

Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed in the seven-week siege of the port city of Misrata and thousands of foreign migrant workers are stranded there.

A rebel spokesman said at least 31 people had been killed there on Sunday and Monday by government shelling and snipers.

Nine weeks after the rebellion broke out, inspired by uprisings against autocratic rulers elsewhere in the Arab world, the insurgents control the east of the country from their Benghazi stronghold, but little territory in the west — principally parts of Misrata, Libya’s third city.

NATO bombing has damaged Gaddafi’s armor but not enough to break the stalemate, and the alliance may have no choice but to use naval gunfire or helicopters, analysts said.

The U.S., British and French leaders said last week they would not stop military action until Gaddafi quit.

“They’ve boxed themselves in by describing victory as Gaddafi leaving,” said Daniel Keohane of the EU Institute for Security Studies think tank. “I don’t think there’s any way they can walk away now. There’s a political imperative to carry on.”

Rebel plans to sell oil from territories they control are running into problems due to U.N. sanctions, envoys and analysts say.

LEGAL DOUBTS

Western powers are eager to help Libyan rebels sell the crude to fill their coffers. But without definitive guidance on the legal status of Libyan oil from the politically divided U.N. sanctions committee, U.N. diplomats and traders say the oil could remain virtually untouchable.

U.N. diplomats told Reuters that Security Council members eager to escalate the diplomatic pressure on Gaddafi’s government — above all France and Britain — rushed through the two packages of sanctions, and may not have foreseen how difficult the U.N. measures would make it to aid the rebels.

“I don’t think they realized the complications the sanctions would create, and now they’re trying to backtrack on the question of selling oil and on the arms embargo,” a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

One of the ideas being floated, diplomats said, was to exempt Arabian Gulf Oil Co (Agoco), a subsidiary of the Libyan National Oil Corp based in rebel areas, from the sanctions. But no delegation has formally proposed it to the committee.

Russia, China, India, Brazil and Germany all abstained during the Security Council vote to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and authorize military action to protect civilians.

Since then, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — all council members — have become increasingly critical of NATO actions, which they say are helping the rebels, not civilians.

So far, the rebel Libyan National Council has only been able to export a small amount of crude oil with the help of OPEC member Qatar.

While NATO looked for a more effective way of attacking Gaddafi’s forces, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said she was extremely worried about the plight of civilians in Misrata.

“I very much hope the security situation will allow us to get into Misrata,” she said in Benghazi. “No one has any sense of the depth and scale of what is happening there.”

EU TROOPS

The European Union outlined a tentative plan on Monday to send European troops to Misrata to protect aid deliveries if requested by the United Nations, EU officials said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Budapest, said Gaddafi’s government had agreed to a humanitarian presence in the capital Tripoli. His spokesman Farhan Haq said this included an agreement on the entry of international humanitarian staff and equipment through the Tunisian border.

Details were scarce and so far Libya has not agreed to a ceasefire to allow aid providers an opportunity to work.

Previously, NATO leaders had ruled out sending ground troops into Libya, but EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Monday EU countries had now adopted unanimously the “concept of the operations” — if the United Nations requested it.

Any EU mission could involve hundreds of military personnel securing transport of supplies directly to Libya, in particular Misrata, and helping to supply food and shelter to refugee camps on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.

EU troops would not have a combat role, except to protect the humanitarian mission, but analysts say the arrival of the first Western troops since the Libyan crisis erupted would be significant.

A chartered ship evacuated nearly 1,000 foreign workers and wounded Libyans from Misrata on Monday, the second evacuation ship in the past few days. Rebels said they had gained ground in fighting in the Tripoli Street area despite government shelling.

“It is clear Gaddafi wants to wipe out Misrata. NATO’s inaction is helping him carry out this plan. Are they waiting for a massacre to happen to realize that they need to change tactics?” rebel spokesman Abdelsalam told Reuters by telephone.

The Libyan government denies allegations that it is violating its people’s human rights and says it is fighting gangs of al Qaeda militants.

Pro-Gaddafi forces have also kept up an offensive on the rebels’ eastern frontline outpost of Ajdabiyah, from where the rebels hope to retake the oil port of Brega, 80 km to the west.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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