G8 leaders meet to discuss Libya no-fly zone

AFP , Monday 14 Mar 2011

Western powers and Russia gather in Paris, still divided over the issue of Libya no-fly zone

Western powers and Russia gather in Paris Monday, still divided over the issue of a no-fly zone to ground the Libyan warplanes pounding the country's rebel forces.

Foreign ministers of the G8 powers meet a day after French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe vowed to step up efforts to get the measure approved.

Britain and France have a draft resolution in hand for the Security Council to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

The plan received backing on Saturday from the 22-nation Arab League, considered crucial for dealing with the region.

But Britain and France failed last Friday to convince their European Union partners to back the move, with Germany and Italy in particular making it clear they were unconvinced.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday welcomed the Arab League's condemnation of Kadhafi's regime, but said many questions still had to be answered on the question of a no-fly zone.

"We do not want to get involved in a civil war in north Africa," the minister said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will join counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

All the UN Security Council's permanent members except China will thus be represented.

Russia and China have appeared reluctant to back the no-fly zone, and the United States has also taken a cautious line on intervention.

Washington and the European Union agree that it could only happen with a UN mandate and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday that it remained unclear if it would be a "wise" move.

But Lavrov said last week that Russia would give a fair hearing to proposals for a no-fly zone, saying Moscow's approval depended on how the system would work and on the humanitarian situation.

In Libya, the situation on the ground is becoming increasingly difficult for the poorly equipped rebel forces.

Kadhafi's forces took Brega, another key town, from the rebels, pushing closer to the main opposition-held city of Benghazi.

Among the rebel troops, only the defectors from Kadhafi's army have military experience. They have few heavy weapons and are vulnerable to air attack.

In a no-fly zone, US and NATO warplanes would ground Kadhafi's air power in order to protect civilians and the opposition. Experts say hundreds of planes would be needed to police the skies over Libya's vast territory.

Clinton has already said a no-fly zone plan will be presented to NATO on Tuesday.

Diplomats told AFP the G8 ministers would also discuss Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

And they will look at other crises in countries such as Somalia, Ivory Coast and Sudan, as well as the Middle East and global drug-trafficking.

Sarkozy is due to meet the ministers on Monday before a working dinner hosted by Juppe ahead of their full meeting and news conferences on Tuesday.

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