Western military intervention in Libya imminent after skepticism over shaky ceasefire

The UN Security Council has passed a resolution authorising military action in Libya, excluding occuption by foreign troops, opening a window for not just a no-fly zone but air assault on President Muammar Gaddafi’s tank columns.

Gaddafi’s forces last week pushed the disorganised and increasingly demoralised rebels back to their stronghold of Benghazi, raising international concerns that a retaliatory massacre was imminent. The rebels had held several key oil towns and even neared the outskirts of the Libyan capital of Tripoli on the back of army defections and a regime caught off-guard, but was steadily pushed back by foreign mercenaries, tanks and Gaddafi’s airforce.

The UN resolution expresses “grave concern at the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties” and notes that Gaddafi’s response to the uprising “may amount to crimes against humanity” and pose a “threat to international peace and security”.

The resolution explicitly calls for a ceasefire and the immediate implementation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s airforce, and furthermore calls on UN member states “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.

After weeks of prevaricating, US President Barack Obama yesterday demanded that Gaddafi cease his advance on Benghazi and withdraw troops from towns formerly held by the rebels, while US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton confirmed that the outcome of international action would be the removal of Gaddafi from power.

Already engaged in two wars in the Middle East, the US had resisted calls from countries including France, the UK and the Maldives for intervention in Libya. US generals had observed that maintaining a no-fly zone would mean bombing Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft defences and would effectively be an act of war.

The US change of heart appears to have come after the 22-member Arab League this week called for a no-fly zone across Libya, arguing that President Muammar Gaddafi had compromised the country’s sovereignty by using the air force to bomb his own population.

Gaddafi responded by calling a ceasefire, reportedly hours before bombers were due take off, and invited international observers into the country.

The move bought the 42-year autocracy some time, but attracted little patience from world leaders.

“Once more, Muammar Gaddafi has a choice,” said US President Obama. “Let me be clear: these terms are not negotiable … if Gaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences and the resolution will be enforced.”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that Gaddafi was “a dictator no longer wanted by his people, but determined to play out in real time a bloody slaughter. It is a slaughter that we now have the power, the demand and the legal basis to stop. That is why what we are doing is right.”

News of the resolution was met with jubilation in Benghazi, although there was widespread skepticism over whether Gaddafi would adhere to his ceasefire – suspicion that was warranted when bombing and shelling continued that evening, and a fighter plane crashed into the city itself after it was shot down by rebels.

Spokesperson for the Libyan Transitional National Council Essam Gheriani, the body given legitimacy last week in Paris as the face of the popular uprising, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that the resolution had “avoided a great deal of bloodshed.

“The revenge Gaddafi would have taken in Benghazi would have been worse than anything we’ve seen before even in a city where he had mass hangings in public. It has been a great morale booster,” said Gheriani.

“This was an international community that for once gave priority to human lives over economic interests.”

Fighting continues across the Middle East as entrenched dictatorships struggle to quell a surge of democratic uprisings. Snipers in Yemen yesterday shot dead 30 protesters in the country’s capital, while opposition leaders in Bahrain have been arrested after the government invited 1000 Saudi troops into the country to crush the Shia uprising in the minority Sunni-ruled country.

Yesterday’s sudden international support of forcible regime change in Libya is likely to increase the confidence of demonstrators in other repressive countries in the region.


Maldives calls for support of Libyan rebels, rebels request air strikes

A delegation of Libyan rebels from the Transitional National Council have met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and called for Western powers to assassinate the country’s President, Muammar Gaddafi.

A spokesperson for the Benghazi-based rebels, Mustafa Gheriani, told media in Paris on Monday that the group wanted “a no-fly zone, we want tactical strikes against those tanks and rockets that are being used against us, and we want a strike against Gaddafi’s compound,” said Gheriani. “This is the message from our delegation in Europe.”

Other rebel leaders in France include Abdul-Jalil, previously Gadaffi’s justice minister who resigned in protest against “excessive use of force” against demonstrators, Abdel-Hafiz Ghoqa, a representative for Benghazi and a human-rights lawyer, and Omar Al Hariri, a former general now in charge of the rebellion’s military affairs who was responsible for teaching Gadaffi to drive.

Gaddafi’s forces, including foreign mercenaries and the airforce, have pushed the Libyan rebels back to the town of Ajdarbia, the last occupied town before the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Early gains by the rebels saw them capture key oil centres such as Ras Lanuf in the confusion as elements of the regime’s military defected. However now the government’s forces have stabilised and begun to push back, the disorganised and ill-disciplined rebel fighters have been unable to contend with Gaddafi’s tanks and apparent enthusiasm to use air-strikes against his own population.

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed today joined earlier calls from the Arab League for the UN Security Council to fulfill its obligations and impose a no-fly zone in Libya.

“Through its own actions, the Gadaffi regime has lost its legitimacy and right to govern,” President Nasheed said.

“Following the Gaddafi regime’s loss of legitimacy, at the present time the Transitional National Council has emerged as the only legitimate body representing the aspirations of the Libyan people. The international community, led by the UN, must therefore immediately open channels of communication with the Transitional National Council.”

Imposing a no-fly-zone would most likely involve US intervention under the banner of NATO. US generals, cautious given the country’s controversial history of intervention in the region, have pointed out that policing the no-fly zone would require strikes against Libyan surface-to-air weapon systems and amount to military intervention.

Prior to the escalation of the conflict President Mohamed Nasheed called for the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Libya, amid a wave of unrest against the region’s assorted dictators.
Yesterday, Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to halt an uprising of the country’s Shia Muslim majority against the Sunni-elite. The opposition in Bahrain has denounced the move as an act of war that could trigger further waves of strife in the region.
“We consider the entry of Saudi Arabia or other Gulf forces into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation,” Bahrain’s Shia Wefaq party said in a statement.


Arab League calls on UN Security Council to “shoulder responsibility” of Libyan no-fly zone

The 22-member Arab League has called for a no-fly zone across Libya, arguing that President Muammar Gaddafi has compromised the country’s soverignity by using the air force to bomb his own population.

Meeting in Cairo, the League called on the UN Security Council to “shoulder its responsibility” and implement the no-fly zone. The US – which as part of NATO would undoubtedly contribute most of the military resources for such an action – has so far been leery of intervention given its controversial history in the region. US military chiefs have earlier stated that a no-fly zone would effectively be a declaration of war, as military assets such as surface-to-air missile defence systems would have to be destroyed in order to police the zone.

Backed by air cover, Gaddafi’s forces have been steadily pushing untrained and disorganised rebel militia groups back west toward their stronghold in Benghazi. Three days ago, after near-unanimous global condemnation of Gaddafi, the rebels abandoned the oil town of Ras Lanuf and surrendered in Misrata and Breqa.

A witness to the fighting in Bin Jawwad told the UK’s Independent newspaper that the rebels had been pushed back by fighters from Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Algeria, some of whom appeared to be drugged. An Al-Jazeera cameraman, Ali Hassaon Al Jaber, was killed when his vehicle came under fire near Benghazi.

The Libyan government continues to insist that the insurgents are al-Qaeda militants.

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s Sunni elite are reportedly entertaining the prospect of inviting Saudi Arabian forces into the country to crush growing calls for reform from the majority Shia population. Saudi police meanwhile reportedly fired at protesters in the country’s eastern town of Qatif during protests on Friday.

Seven demonstrators were also killed in Yemen, a day after police fired teargas and live ammunition at protesters injuring over 100 people.
Last week senior Maldivan officials warned that the local economy would “collapse within hours” if the price of oil were to skyrocket on the back of regional instability – particularly in Saudi Arabia.
The Maldives currently spends 25 percent of its GDP importing fuel, mostly marine diesel, and is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to oil price fluctuations.

BBC team detained, tortured by Gaddafi forces

Three BBC journalists covering the civil unrest in Libya were arrested and tortured by forces loyal to President Muammar Gaddafi, before being subjected to a mock execution.

Soldiers fired shots past the heads of the journalists, and they were made to wear hoods and told they were to be killed. At one stage the journalists were held in a cage while Libyan captives around them them were tortured. All journalists were in the country with permission of the Libyan government.

Describing the other prisoners, Turkish cameraman Goktay Koraltan said “I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming.”

UK national Chris Cobb-Smith said the three journalists were lined up facing a wall while a man put a submachine gun next to their necks and pulled the trigger.

A Palestinian reporter for BBC Arabic, Feras Killani, was interrogated and then taken to a carpark where he was beaten with a pipe and a long stick. Killani then had a mask taped to his face through which he struggled to breathe.

After the BBC and the UK Foreign Office intervened, a Libyan man “who spoke perfect Oxford English” arrived and signed the paperwork to release the three reporters.

“They took us to their rest room. It was a charm offensive, packets of cigarettes, tea, coffee, offers of food,” the reporters said.

The BBC team had been covering a battle 30 miles from the Libyan capital when they were arrested at a checkpoint.


Deploy UN peacekeepers to Libya, urges Maldives President

President Mohamed Nasheed has called for the United Nations to deploy peacekeepers in the troubled gulf state of Libya, in an effort “to contain” its leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Nasheed made the suggestion during an interview on ‘Walk the Talk’, a current affairs program on Indian television station NDTV.

The Libyan government, a 42 year autocracy under Gaddafi, is facing rising international censure after using African mercenaries and military hardware – including anti-aircraft missiles – against civilian protesters.

At least 300 people are believed dead in the uprising while armed opposition groups now control much of the east of the country including Zawiyah, a town just 30 miles from the west of the capital of Tripoli. The British SAS meanwhile evacuated more than 500 British oil workers from a staging point in the Libyan desert, using C-130 Hercules transports.

“I feel that the UN should now be thinking about peacekeeping in Libya – on the ground intervention. This is very important,” Nasheed said on ‘Walk the Talk’.

“It is very disturbing to see the whole thing being played out, and everyone talking about their nationals – we all humans and sovereignty cannot be played over humanity,” Nasheed said.

“It is very disturbing to hear everyone talking only about their own nationals. People should be talking about Libya and the people. You kill an Indian, you kill a Libyan, what difference does that make? You’ve killed someone.”

Direct action was needed, Nasheed said, rather than the further economic sanctions that had been imposed.

“[The international community] are talking about sanctions – but Libyans already can’t import anything,” he said.

Nasheed noted that Gaddafi had survived the extreme political turbulence of the last 3-4 days, and said he was “very jittery” about the prospects of the leader stepping down voluntarily.

“Certainly he should go – I’ve no doubt about that,” he said. “It is our responsibility to make sure that at the end of the day we don’t have headlines saying 500,000 people are dead from aerial bombing in Libya.”

The Maldives, Nasheed said, was a “laboratory case” for the current call for democracy in the Middle East and the ousting of autocratic leaders.

“For the last 100 years Maldivian leaders have tried to emulate Egypt. There was Gayoom, but other leaders before him also studied in Egypt.

“What they need now are political parties. We will always support movement in any country when people want to be free – it is very important for development that countries haves strong political parties and free and fair elections.”

The uprisings had showcased that there was “no contradiction between Islam and democracy”, Nasheed said. “We are a 100 percent Muslim country and we have been able to galvanise the public for political activism, we’ve been able to amend our constitution, we able to build political parties, we have had free and fair presidential elections, parliamentary elections, local elections, we have separation of powers, we have a very vibrant independent media, we have all the fundamental rights – but all that requires space for organised political activism.”

A theocracy based around an extreme religious idea, Nasheed said, was simply “The camoflage of a standard dictatorship – except in the name of God.”

Issues such as Israel and Middle East peace issues could be more easily dealt with in a free and democratic country, Nasheed said.

“We have been able to have a number contacts with Israel now – the people have no issue with that.”

Queried by the interviewer about the widespread public anger Nasheed faced when reaching out to Israel, Nasheed claimed that “there is always organised opposition, and there should be and we can always talk about it and give our point of view.”

The uprisings had broken many Middle Eastern stereotypes, Nasheed agreed.

“Finally we will be able to show Islam for what it is – a high sophisticated intellectual life, that is highly attractive to people.”

Asked by the interviewer if he himself was “a devout Muslim”, Nasheed described himself as “practicing”, “but I don’t think that necessarily narrows my thinking or my attitude or my interactions with anyone.”

The interviewer also challenged Nasheed on how the Maldives could balance a broadly Islamic population with the influences of Western-style beach tourism.

“Traditionally we were Sufi Muslim, so therefore we were very liberal,” Nasheed said. “But in 70s we had wahabism starting to come in. Then in the late 70s Gayoom came to power, after living in Egypt.

“There was always a tendency to use religion or verses from the Quran or hadiths to justify yourself or justify your actions. Some other leader might have said “for development’. But Gayoom would say, ‘for God, so that we may attain paradise.’ What you are really saying is that you are building a school.”


Foreign Ministry loses contact with Maldivians in Libya

The Foreign Ministry has lost contact with six Maldivians in Libya, although it has not received reports of any injuries.

The situation in Libya is increasingly unstable with much of the eastern part of the country rebelling from the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi, the head of the country’s 42 year autocracy.

“We were checking on their condition until yesterday when we were unable to contact them via phone. Their phones would not ring, either,” a Foreign Ministry official told newspaper Haveeru.

“We are trying to contact them and are looking into any possible way that we could contact them through Dhiraagu. We are also trying to contact the Maldivians through an embassy in Libya of a friendly nation.”

US President Barack Obama has meanwhile broken his silence over the Libyan situation and outright condemned Gaddafi’s tactic of using violence against the demonstrators. The US President has sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Europe to attend a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop,” said President Obama said.

Minivan News has meanwhile obtained a copy of Gaddafi’s ‘Little Green Book’, entitled “The Solution of the Problem of Democracy”, copies of which were reportedly gifted to a generation of Maldivian school students under former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.


UN Security Council meets as Gaddafi vows “to die a martyr”

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi has vowed on national television that he will not step down from the country’s leadership, and was ready “to die a martyr.”

Speaking in the third person, Gaddafi said “I am not going to leave this land. I shall remain, defiant. Muammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time.”

The leader of the 42 year-old autocracy has reportedly used African mercenaries, snipers and even anti-aircraft missiles to target increasingly fractious demonstrators, with reports of 200-300 killed.

Referring to his green copy of the Libyan penal code, Gaddafi stated that anyone Libyan who “uses weapons against Libya will be sentenced to death.”

The public speech, he said, was intended to refute earlier reports in the international media that he had escaped to Venezuela.

A New York Times journalist in the country reported that much of the east appeared to now be under opposition control. Many of the protesters were armed, she observed.

The UN Security Council has meanwhile called for Gaddafi to cease his campaign of violence against his own people, deploring “the repression of peaceful demonstrators.”

Libya’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim al-Dabashi, defected from Gaddafi’s regime and confirmed that the east of the country was no longer under government control. He said he had received reports of “genocide” occurring in the country’s west.

The UN Security Council’s message to Gaddafi was “not strong enough. But any message to the Libyan government at this stage is good,” he said.

As well as losing the UN delegation, Gaddafi has lost at least one military battalion and two air force colonels, who flew to Malta in their jets and requested asylum after refusing to bomb protesters.

The Maldives has meanwhile joined Jordan and Qatar among Muslim nations called for an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council, on which Libya also sits.

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed called on the international community to “strengthen measures to realise the aspirations of the Libyan people to fundamental rights and freedoms.”

“The right not to be tortured, the freedom to speak your mind, the ability to choose your own government… these liberties are not the preserve of Western nations but universal values to which everyone aspires,” Nasheed said. “These are the forces that are being played out on the streets of Libya and other countries of the Middle East.”

Established democracies had a responsibility to assist those who aspired to democracy and basic freedoms, he said.

Retired British MP Robert Key, who is currently visiting the Maldives for the first time since taking its case for democracy to the British parliament, said earlier this week that the Maldives had led “blazed a trail in promoting democracy and empowerment of the citizen, with all the difficulties that presents”, and could “hold its head high”.

“There will be leaders in North Africa who will be wishing they had listened to the Maldives, had done what the Maldives chose to do in 2008,” he said.

Oil prices spiked to US$106 a barrel on the back of ongoing unrest in the region.


Libyan protests spread to capital after Gaddafi uses African mercenaries to quell uprising

Protests that erupted in the Libyan city of Benghazi have spread to the capital, after a vicious military crackdown that opposition supporters are claiming may have killed up to 200.

Despite the news blackout, yesterday reports of assorted incidents filtered out from the country, often over the phone to news media. Libyans accused their leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of using mercenaries from Chad to attack protesters, deploy sniper teams firing indiscriminately on protesters, and even of firing an anti-aircraft missile to disperse a crowd. A cleric told the BBC he had seen a tank crush a car containing two passengers, another said African mercenaries has shot and killed a two year-old boy.

Last night Gaddafi’s son Saif Gaddafi appeared on state television and warned that the overthrow of the 42 year regime could lead to civil war. At least one military battalion has sided with the demonstrators following the Benghazi crackdown.

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent Jon Leyne described Saif Gaddafi’s rambling speech as “one of the strangest political speeches I think I’ve ever sat through. He was completely and utterly detached from the reality of what is going on in his country.”

“To put it bluntly, most Libyans will just treat it as gibberish – it was completely meaningless to them. The idea that they’re somehow going to sit down and have a national dialogue with a government that’s brought in foreign mercenaries to shoot at them is laughable.”


Libyan army guns down demonstrators, UK backs away from Bahrain

Soldiers in Libya and Bahrain have fired on demonstrators as authorities try to quell growing unrest, triggered after protesters toppled 30 year autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.

Troops in Libya reportedly shot and killed at least 12 mourners in the city of Benghazi, after a group tried to storm a military barracks and throw firebombs into the compound on the way to the funeral. Opposition groups claimed up to 60 were killed, while one activist told the BBC that the regime was releasing prisoners from jail to attack the demonstrators.

The BBC reported that troops used mortars and 14.5mm heavy machine guns to repress the civilians, while Al-Jazeera reported that hospitals were running out of blood needed for emergency transfusions.

Al-Jazeera also reported an account from a cleric in Benghazi, who witnessed a tank crushing two people in a car. Libyan President Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi has also imposed a news blackout on the country and banned journalists from entering.

Analysts have further suggested that the human cost of an Egyptian-style uprising in Libya could be far higher, given the military apparent enthusiasm for firing on its own population.

Bahrain’s military meanwhile shot and killed at least one demonstrator and wounded 50 more, during a funeral procession for four people killed in earlier unrest.

Rising tensions and ongoing demonstrations suggest that King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa’s gift of US$3000 on February 12 to every family in the poverty-stricken Gulf nation has failed to satisfy protesters.

The UK, which has previously supported regimes in Bahrain and Libya, announced it was withdrawing licenses authorising the sale on arms to both countries.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has trained more than 100 Bahraini army officers in the past five years at its military college in Sandhurst, reports the UK’s Guardian newspaper, while the country is also a base for the US fifth fleet.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has meanwhile condemned the shooting of protesters in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, and described the entire region as “boiling with anger.”

“At the root of this anger is decades of neglect of people’s aspirations to realise not only civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights,” Navi said.