by Staff Writers
London (AFP) June 15, 2011
Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Wednesday that Britain could sustain its Libya operation long-term, after the navy chief warned of tough choices if the campaign lasts more than six months.
Cameron said he had met First Sea Lord Admiral Mark Stanhope, the head of the Royal Navy, following his comments.
Britain has been one of the chief players in the NATO military alliance implementing a United Nations mandate to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians in Libya as leader Moamer Kadhafi attempts to crush a rebel uprising.
"I had a meeting with the first sea lord yesterday and he agreed that we can sustain this mission for as long as we need to," Cameron told parliament.
"We are doing the right thing.
"Time is on our side. We have got NATO, the United Nations, the Arab League. We have right on our side.
"The pressure is building, militarily, diplomatically, politically. Time is running out for Kadhafi."
Stanhope's comments had called into question a recent defence review which ushered in cuts including the scrapping of Britain's flagship aircraft carrier, Ark Royal, and fleet of Harrier jump jets.
"How long can we go on as we are in Libya?" Stanhope asked at a media briefing.
Beyond the 90-day extension to NATO's mission, "we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities."
Elements of the campaign would have been cheaper and "much more reactive" if Britain had still had an aircraft carrier, the admiral argued.
The defence budget has been slashed by eight percent as Cameron's coalition government tries to bring Britain's record deficit under control.
"At the end of this review, we have the fourth-highest defence budget for any country in the world," Cameron told lawmakers Wednesday.
"We have superb armed forces, superbly equipped and they're doing a great job in the skies above Libya."
earlier related report
At a meeting in London, Rasmussen and Cameron also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and agreed that Afghan security forces were "increasingly capable" of taking over from Western forces.
The pair noted that "NATO had significantly degraded Kadhafi's military ability" and "committed to maintaining the operation until the Libyan people are free to determine their own future," a spokesman from Cameron's Downing Street office said.
"They agreed that NATO should continue to ramp up the pressure on Kadhafi," added the spokesman.
South Africa on Wednesday accused NATO of deliberately targeting Kadhafi and warned that its military campaign in Libya could paralyse other UN Security Council action.
Cameron and Rasmussen brushed off criticism.
"I think there is a very clear pattern emerging, which is time is on our side because we have the support of NATO, the UN, the Arab League, a huge number of countries in our coalition and in our contact group," Cameron said.
The British leader maintained that pressure was building on Kadhafi, saying the Libyan leader was "running out of time and running out of friends".
"I want us to keep up that pressure and I believe that we can help and allow the Libyan people to choose their own future," Cameron said as the pair met.
On Afghanistan, the two men "discussed NATO's plan for transition and agreed that Afghan security forces are increasingly capable of providing security in their country," according to the Downing Street statement.
earlier related report
"Italy and other European governments should put the money into developing democracy, not bombs," said Maroni, a leading member of the anti-immigration Northern League party in coalition with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
"As long as there are bombs, refugees will arrive and they will need assistance," Maroni said, following the arrival on Italian shores of boats with thousands of African migrant workers escaping Libya in recent weeks.
"Something isn't working and we are the only ones to suffer a negative impact. We've had more than 20,000 refugees arrive from Libya," he said.
"I therefore hope that the war finishes soon because only a new government can handle this," he added, referring to a controversial immigration agreement between Italy and Libya that blocked migrant flows but is no longer in force.
The Northern League party is Silvio Berlusconi's last major political ally and its votes keep the legally-embattled prime minister in power.
The Northern League's electorate wants more money to be invested in boosting Italy's near-zero growth economy instead of overseas military missions.
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Villagers flee as Myanmar rebel clash 'spreads'
Bangkok (AFP) June 15, 2011
Deadly clashes between Myanmar troops and ethnic minority rebels near the Chinese border have spread with hundreds, possibly thousands, of people fleeing their homes, reports said Wednesday. Heavy fighting around a large hydropower project being built in northern Kachin state to provide power to China has erupted sporadically for almost a week after soldiers tried to push back Kachin Indepen ... read more
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