As the military stalemate deepens, sharp differences have surfaced between key members of the NATO alliance, casting doubts on the ability of western countries to steer Libya's political transition.

Citing “humanitarian” considerations, Italy has called for an immediate ceasefire in Libya. Addressing Italy's Lower House of Parliament, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has proposed “an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities” in Libya. “With regard to NATO, it is fair to ask for increasingly detailed information on results as well as precise guidelines on the dramatic errors involving civilians,” he added. Mr. Frattini made these observations in the aftermath of a NATO air strike on Sunday, which killed nine civilians, including two children.

France opposed the Italian proposal. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said a pause in the campaign “would allow [Libyan leader] Muammar Qadhafi to gain time and reorganise”. “In the end, it would be the civilian population that would suffer from the smallest sign of weakness on our behalf.”

The Arab League, whose consent to the use of air power to protect civilians was critical in the passage of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, is also calling for a “political solution” to the Libyan crisis. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said: “When I see children being killed, I must have misgivings. That's why I warned about the risk of civilian casualties.” “You can't have a decisive ending. Now is the time to do whatever we can to reach a political solution,” he added.

With NATO's air campaign making no decisive headway, the African Union is saying the West is bound to accept its plan for a ceasefire, which does not say Mr. Qadhafi must step down. In an interview with Reuters, A.U. head Jean Ping said: “The stalemate is already there. There is no other way (than the A.U. plan). They will (endorse it).” He pointed out that a deadlock threatened to break-up Libya, which could then emerge as another Somalia, ruled by warlords and Islamists.

As the Libyan conflict meanders, China and Russia appears to have the diplomatic high-ground. Unlike some of the western countries, the Chinese have made it clear that they do not reject the Libyan government's role in a future ceasefire. After meeting with Benghazi-based opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said on Wednesday that the Libyan Transitional National Council (T.N.C.) was an “important dialogue partner” in defusing the crisis.

Last week Russia's special envoy to Libya Mikhail Margelov held talks in Tripoli. After meeting Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi on Thursday, he said he had been told that representatives of the Libyan government were in contact with members of the T.N.C. in several European capitals including France, Germany and Norway.

Keywords: Libya uprising

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