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Updated: April 7, 2011 00:30 IST

Will stand by civilians: NATO

Atul Aneja
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Libyan rebel fighters prepare rockets for use at a position west of Ajdabiya, Libya on Wednesday. NATO rejected criticism from Libyan rebels over the pace of its military campaign in Libya, saying that its airstrikes against Qadhafi's forces are increasing every day. Photo: AP
Libyan rebel fighters prepare rockets for use at a position west of Ajdabiya, Libya on Wednesday. NATO rejected criticism from Libyan rebels over the pace of its military campaign in Libya, saying that its airstrikes against Qadhafi's forces are increasing every day. Photo: AP

Faces criticism that is not doing enough

Faced with criticism from the opposition that is not doing enough, the NATO alliance on Wednesday has asserted that it would mount an energetic campaign to protect civilians entrapped in the heavily shelled Libyan city of Misurata.

“We have a clear mandate and we will do everything to protect the civilians of Misurata,” said Carmen Romero, deputy spokeswoman for NATO, on Wednesday. She added: “Misurata is our number one priority.” The sense of urgency to tackle the crisis in Misurata, Libya's third largest, which has been besieged for 40 days by loyalists of the Qadhafi-regime, also echoed in the remarks of French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe. “Misurata is in a situation which cannot continue and I am going to discuss it in a few hours time with the Secretary-General of NATO,” he told France Info radio.

Members of the 28-nation Western military alliance were apparently jolted by the harsh criticism mounted on Tuesday by Abdul Fatah Younis, head of the opposition armed forces, about NATO's imperfect conduct in the battlefield. At a press conference late in Benghazi, the de facto opposition capital, Mr. Younis, a former Interior Minister, accused NATO of lethargy in responding to the dangers posed to civilians by troops loyal to Mr. Qadhafi.

“Civilians are dying daily because of lack of food or milk, even children are dying. Even by bombing. If NATO waits for another week, it will be a crime that NATO will have to carry. What is NATO doing? It is shelling some defined areas only,” he said.

“When a large force of tanks, and even artillery, is on its way to Benghazi, Ajdabiyah or Brega, we always inform NATO straight away. Because we don't have such weapons. NATO's reaction is very slow. By the time the information reaches from one official to another [and] till it reaches the field commander, it takes hours.”

The opposition's call for greater NATO activism has grown shriller after anti-Qadhafi forces, out-shelled by regime troops on Tuesday, have retreated from Brega and have reconstructed their defence lines between this strategic oil town, and Ajdabiyah.

Glimpses of a string of atrocities committed by the regime forces in Zawiya — a former opposition held town re-taken by regime forces with brutal force — has also seemingly reinforced the opposition's appeal for greater external air support. A report in the New York Times from Zawiya, points to the recovery of several photographs, depicting horrific torture, from the second-floor of a burnt out police station. Al Jazeera is also reporting of the presence of a network of dungeons in Mr. Qadhafi's stronghold of Sirte, where prisoners are being tortured and executed. With reports streaming in of the worsening situation in embattled Misurata, which has already caused Turkey to evacuate seriously injured people in an emergency hospital ship, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet has announced that a security corridor has been established to enable transfer of supplies to the city by sea.

“Today [Wednesday], we have reopened [marine] traffic at Tobruk and Benghazi, and so boats from Benghazi will be able ... to supply Misurata, because the coalition will prevent any action by the Qadhafi navy,” he said.

Despite the recent setbacks on the battlefield, the opposition-led Transitional National Council is asserting itself as Libya's de facto government.  The TNC has issued “a voluntary and sincere apology on behalf of the free people of Libya” for the 1988 bombing of a jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie

As NATO prepares for fresh air strikes, the regime forces, according to sources within the alliance, are becoming less visible on the ground, by better concealing heavy pieces of armour and artillery, and increasingly depending on lighter mortars for attacks.

Keywords: NATOLibyan crisis

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