Libya declares halt to all military operations

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa announces ceasefire, says talks will begin with opposition
Libya declares halt to all military operations
Colonel Gaddafi, Libyas leader. (Getty Images)
By Reuters
Fri 18 Mar 2011 04:50 PM

Muammar Gaddafi's government

said it was declaring a unilateral ceasefire in its offensive to

crush Libya's revolt, as Western warplanes prepared to attack

his forces.

But government troops pounded the rebel-held western city of

Misrata on Friday, killing at least 25 people including

children, a doctor there told Reuters. Residents said there was

no sign of a ceasefire.

And in the rebel-controlled east, the government declaration

was dismissed as a ruse or a sign Gaddafi was desperate.

"We have to be very cautious. He is now starting to be

afraid, but on the ground the threat has not changed," a French

spokesman said. Britain, like France a strong advocate of armed

action, said it would judge Gaddafi by "actions, not his words".

Turkey, an opponent of military action, said the ceasefire

should go into effect immediately.

"We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate

stop to all military operations," Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa

Koussa told reporters in Tripoli on Friday, after the UN

Security Council passed a resolution authorising military


He called for dialogue with all sides. Gaddafi had vowed to

show "no mercy, no pity" on Thursday, and rebels pleaded for

foreign aid before time ran out.

The ceasefire offer was probably prompted by Gaddafi's

realisation that air strikes could seriously degrade the Libyan

military, said John Drake, senior risk consultant at AKE.

"The Gaddafi regime may be willing to negotiate," he told

Reuters. "With talk of strikes against military convoys he may

be concerned about a significant attack on his military."

Western officials said military action could include France,

Britain, the United States and one or more Arab countries.

"Britain will deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons as well as

air-to-air refuelling and surveillance aircraft," Prime Minister

David Cameron told parliament.

"Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started

and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where

they can start to take the necessary action."

Gulf state Qatar said it would take part but it was unclear

whether that meant military help, while Italy said it would make

military bases, equipment and troops available.

Denmark and Canada said they planned to contribute

warplanes. France is to host talks on Saturday to discuss the

action with British, Arab League and other leaders.

People in Misrata said the rebel-held western city was under

heavy bombardment by Gaddafi's forces on Friday.

"They are bombing everything, houses, mosques and even

ambulances," Gemal, a rebel spokesman, told Reuters by phone

from the last big rebel stronghold in the west.

Another rebel named Saadoun said: "We believe they want to

enter the city at any cost before the international community

starts implementing the UN resolution.

"We call on the international community to do something

before it's too late. They must act now."

A fighter named Mohammed said tanks were advancing on the

city centre. "All the people of Misrata are desperately trying

to defend the city," he said.

Al Arabiya also said the rebel-held western town of Zintan

was attacked by rockets on Friday. The fighting reports could

not be independently confirmed. Authorities were preventing

Tripoli-based foreign journalists from reporting freely.

In rebel-controlled Tobruk in the east, there was scorn for

the ceasefire call. On Thursday, Gaddafi had vowed "no mercy and

no pity".

"See how things change from night to day," said Ashraf

Afgair. "They are just trying to calm international opinion.

It's a desperate attempt by Gaddafi to cling to power."

Idris Khamis said: "They have reached the end of the line.

That's why they are accepting the U.N. decision. Otherwise it's

the same fate for Gaddafi as Hitler and Mussolini."

But Gaddafi's troops did not fulfil his threat to overrun

the rebel base of Benghazi overnight after their rapid

counter-offensive brought them to within 100 km (60 miles) of

the eastern city.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution endorsing a

no-fly zone and "all necessary measures" to protect civilians

from Gaddafi's forces.

Libya's military airfields are mostly strung along the

Mediterranean coast, as are its population centres. Gaddafi's

ground troops are advancing from the west along the main coast

road towards Benghazi in the east.

While other countries or NATO may play roles in military

action, U.S. officials expect the United States with its

extensive air and sea forces to do the heavy lifting in a

campaign likely to include air strikes on tanks and artillery.

Ten of the Council's 15 member states voted in favour of the

resolution, while Russia, China and Germany were among five that

abstained. The resolution was co-sponsored by France, Britain,

Lebanon and the United States.

Apart from military action, it expands sanctions against

Gaddafi and associates. Among firms whose assets it orders

frozen are the Libyan National Oil Corp and the central bank.

Rebel National Council head Mustafa Abdel Jalil told Al

Jazeera television air strikes, beyond the no-fly zone, were

essential to stop Gaddafi.

Some in the Arab world sense a Gaddafi victory could turn

the tide against pro-democracy movements that have unseated

autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and inspired mass protests in

Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.

Gaddafi's Defence Ministry warned of swift retaliation, even

beyond Libyan frontiers, against hostile action.

"Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air

and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and

civilian and military (facilities) will become targets of

Libya's counter-attack," the ministry said in a statement.

Foreign military action could include no-fly and no-drive

zones, a maritime exclusion zone, jamming army communications

and intelligence help. Air strikes would almost certainly be

launched to knock out Libyan radar and air defences.

"Mission creep" worries some. Western powers, chastened by

protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, would be wary of

getting drawn into any ground action in Libya.

Germany said it saw "considerable dangers and risks". NATO

member Turkey also said it opposed the operation.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa said the UN resolution was

aimed at protecting civilians and not did not authorise

invasion, and said he did not want any side "to go too far".

Gaddafi would be guilty of war crimes if he carries out a

threat to attack civilians in Benghazi, the International

Criminal Court's prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.

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