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Ajdabiya blast not caused by NATO air strike: official

by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) April 9, 2011
NATO said said Saturday none of its warplanes conducted any air strikes on the Libyan town of Ajdabiya, after residents claimed a huge blast was probably caused by an alliance strike.

"We can confirm that there were no NATO strikes in the city of Ajdabiya," a NATO official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We continue to engage government forces throughout the country. We have verified that the alleged air strike in Ajdabiya city was not the result" of a NATO strike, the official said.

NATO is also trying to verify reports that a helicopter bearing a rebel flag was flying towards the frontline around Ajdabiya despite a UN-mandated no-fly zone enforced by the 28-nation alliance, the official said.

"We are still trying to verify if there was any violation of the no-fly zone," the official said.

The official added that if any aircraft violates the no-fly zone, NATO surveillance planes send a message demanding that the pilot land immediately.

If the aircraft is still in the air, jets are scrambled to intercept the plane and can then shoot it down if the pilot refuses to land.

A helicopter can take off and land in a relatively short period of time, making it harder to intercept quickly, the official added.

NATO is operating under a UN mandate to conduct air strikes on ground forces threatening to harm the population and prevent aircraft from flying over Libya.

earlier related report
NATO forces Libya rebel fighter jet to land: official
Brussels (AFP) April 9, 2011 - NATO warplanes intercepted a MiG-23 fighter jet operated by a Libyan rebel pilot on Saturday and forced him to land after he violated a UN-mandated no-fly zone, a NATO official told AFP.

The jet had taken off from a rebel-controlled airfield near the eastern city of Benghazi in the morning and was intercepted within minutes, the official said on condition of anonymity. No weapons were fired by either side.

"No aggressive action was displayed by the MiG-23 and the NATO fighters proceeded to force it to land back at the Benina airfield," the official said.

The official added that the rebels had not warned NATO that one of their jets was going to take off.

It was the first time that any aircraft violated the no-fly zone since NATO took command of the mission from a US-led coalition on March 31.

"A request to fly by anybody in the no-fly zone would be scrutinised and there would have to be very compelling reason for an aircraft to be flown," the official said.

The UN Security Council put in place last month a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Moamer Kadhafi from using his air force to kill civilians after the Libyan leader violently cracked down on pro-democracy protests.

NATO has also conducted air strikes against Kadhafi's ground forces under the UN mandate to use "all necessary measures" to protect the population.

Following normal procedure, NATO jets were scrambled to intercept the MiG-23 after it was detected by an AWAC surveillance aircraft, the NATO official said.

Two NATO planes flew alongside the MiG and made visual contact with the Libyan pilot, using international signals to indicate that he should land. The signals are usually made by hand or by tipping the plane's wing.

"He complied and the aircraft landed very quickly after take off," the official said. "It was only in the air a few minutes."

"In this case there was no aggressive behaviour, which meant no lethal force was required," the official said.

NATO assumes the pilot was part of the opposition because Benghazi is in the hands of rebels who have commandeered several Libyan fighter jets.

"It shows we are impartial, the no-fly zone applies to any aircraft," the official said. "A no-fly zone is a no-fly zone, period."

The intercept came in the wake of two friendly fire incidents in Libya.

NATO warplanes mistakenly struck a column of rebel tanks on Thursday, killing four people. The alliance admitted that it was unaware that the rebels were using tanks in the conflict.

A week earlier, NATO warplanes fired in self-defence after some fighters fired celebratory tracers in the air. Nine rebels and four civilians died in that incident.

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