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NATO battles rifts three months into Libya war
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) June 30, 2011

China says obey UN after France admission on Libya
Beijing (AFP) June 30, 2011 - China on Thursday called on nations involved in the Libyan conflict to stick to the UN mandate authorising military action, after France acknowledged arming rebel fighters.

"China calls on the international community to strictly follow the spirit of the relevant resolution of the UN Security Council," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in response to a question on France's admission.

He also urged countries involved to "avoid taking any action that goes beyond the mandate of the resolution."

The French ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday that his country's delivery of arms to rebels was not in breach of a resolution adopted in February that established an arms embargo to Libya.

He said France had decided to provide "self-defence weapons" to civilian populations in rebel-held areas because they were "under threat."

Article 4 of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 -- which was adopted in March -- specifies that allowances can be made to the embargo if they are in the interest of protecting civilians.

But Britain -- which along with France is spearheading the NATO-led air campaign targeting the forces of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi -- has declined to follow suit in arming the rebels over concerns about UN authorisation.

The African Union on Thursday condemned the flow of arms into Libya after France said it had been air-dropping weapons to Berber tribal fighters southwest of the capital.

China, a permanent Council member, abstained from the vote on Resolution 1973, and has insisted on maintaining a policy of non-interference and public neutrality on the Libyan conflict.

But it has recently shown willingness to engage in the crisis, holding talks with both government officials and rebel leaders.

Last week, Beijing recognised Libya's opposition as an "important dialogue partner" after talks in the Chinese capital between Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and senior rebel leader Mahmud Jibril.

Hong on Thursday reiterated calls for a "political resolution" to the conflict.

After three months of air strikes in Libya, the NATO alliance is showing growing signs of discord over how to bring a successful end to a conflict that has dragged on longer than some anticipated.

Before NATO took command of operations on March 31, replacing a Western coalition that had launched the first salvos two weeks earlier, the French defence chief had said the conflict would last "weeks."

The bombing campaign has left Moamer Kadhafi's army in tatters. But rifts and signs of fatigue have emerged within the alliance while the Libyan leader clings to power as the mission enters its fourth month on Friday.

France said Wednesday it had air dropped weapons to rebels south of Tripoli, a move that caught its closest allies off guard, with Britain saying it would not follow suit.

Italy dropped its own political bombshell last week when it called for a suspension of hostilities, which was swiflty rejected by the alliance.

The operation's commander, Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, refuses to scale it down, saying NATO has made significant progress by bringing "normalcy" to the opposition-held east while rebels scored successes in the west.

"I do not believe that any scaling down of operation is appropriate nor required at this time. In fact we stay the course," Bouchard said on Tuesday.

The Canadian general said NATO would keep up the pressure until Moamer Kadhafi stops threatening civilians, returns his forces to barracks and allows humanitarian aid to flow freely into Libya.

"We will continue our mission without pause until we have reached those objectives," he said.

The military organisation has extended its mandate for another 90 days, committing it to the mission until at least late September.

Shashank Joshi, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said NATO has succeeded in fulfilling its UN mandate to protect civilians and will eventually bring down the Kadhafi regime.

"They have degraded Kadhafi's military capability, pushed him back, stretched his forces extremely thinly and essentially have made regime change an inevitability," Joshi told AFP.

"On the mission of regime change, which is the more central mission, I think they will eventually succeed, there's no doubt about it," he said, although NATO has repeatedly denied seeking regime change or targetting Kadhafi himself.

"But, what I would caution, is that it can only take place potentially on a timetable that is quite politically damaging and has already revealed quite a few serious strains within the alliance."

Outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates brought these strains out in the open earlier this month when he scolded allies for their over-reliance on the US military, saying they were even running out of munitions in Libya.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hit back on Friday, dismissing Gates's criticism on the "bitterness" of a future retiree.

France, Britain and the United States launched the first strikes against the Libyan regime on March 19 before handing control of the operation to NATO despite French reservations.

Only eight of 28 alliance members are taking part in the air strikes, and one of them, Norway, has announced that it would end its mission in August because its air force is too small to continue.

The United States, France and Britain have pressed other allies to step up their contributions, with Gates singling out Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands as nations that should take part in the bombings.

But the latter countries have shown no willingness to drop bombs in Libya.

"It is quite a challenge to find somebody to step in," a NATO diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "In the long run, everybody will need some relief at some point. You will need a rotation."

But NATO will see the mission through as France and Britain have invested too much political capital to back out, Joshi said.

"They will not concede Italy's point about stopping the bombing and they will plough on regardless of whether the Norwegians or the Belgians or anyone else continues alongside them," he said.

"France and Britain have put so much into this, there is no prospect that they will now give up."

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Libyan rebels respect German no to military action
Berlin (AFP) June 30, 2011 - Libyan rebel leader Mahmud Jibril said Thursday that he respected Germany's decision not to take part in military action to protect his country's civilians despite international criticism.

Jibril said after talks with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that Berlin's support in recognising the opposition National Transition Council and providing 15 million euros ($21.8 million) in aid were also crucial.

"Help for the Libyan people can come in many ways," he told reporters in Berlin through an interpreter when asked about Germany opting out of the NATO campaign of air strikes in Libya.

"Protecting the Libyan people from bombardment is not very different from economic assistance and political pressure (against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi)."

Germany in March abstained on a vote at the UN Security Council authorising a Libya mission to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone. It was the only European Union or NATO member to do so and provoked criticism from key allies.

Westerwelle recognised Jibril's National Transitional Council (NTC) as the "legitimate representative" of the Libyan people during a visit this month to Benghazi, the eastern seat of the rebellion.

"We are standing by the democratic forces in Libya," he told the news conference in Berlin.

Jabril, the top foreign affairs official in the NTC, thanked Germany for concrete assistance offers, including prosthetic limbs for those wounded in combat, psychological counselling for the traumatised as well as support for the around 700 Libyan students in Germany.

Westerwelle reiterated that Berlin was working to hand over assets in German bank accounts belonging to Kadhafi's regime -- estimated at 7.35 billion euros -- to the NTC.

Asked about the French military parachuting light arms to the rebels -- a move Russia said could mark a "brazen violation" of a Security Council resolution -- Jabril declined to comment.

Westerwelle said he believed any French arms drop had occurred in a "very specific context" but refused to take a stance because Germany is not participating in the NATO air war.

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NATO has resources for Libya operation: Rasmussen
Budva, Montenegro (AFP) June 29, 2011
NATO has the necessary resources and assets for its operations in Libya, but European members of the alliance should step up their cooperation so they can be used more efficiently, NATO's chief said Wednesday. "Firstly, I can assure you that we have all resources and assets necessary to continue the operation (in Libya) and bring it to a successful end," Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters ... read more

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