Europe divided over allied campaign in Libya

AFP , Monday 21 Mar 2011

Europe's powers headed for a clash over the allied campaign in Libya as foreign ministers from the 27-nation EU went into talks Monday divided over the initial intervention and a possible NATO role

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A protester holds a banner that reads: 'Routine Business?', as he marches down a main boulevard in Brussels on Sunday 20 March 2011 to protest during a rally against bombing of Libya. (AP)

"It shouldn't be a war on Libya," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose country is one of little more than a handful of European Union nations engaged in the three-day old campaign to protect Libyans from Muamer Gaddafi.

Italy, a former colonial power in Libya which enjoyed close political and economic ties with Gaddafi, nonetheless joined the alliance after dragging its feet, sending four Tornoado warplanes over Libya on Sunday and opening its bases to the international coalition.

But comments from Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa on Sunday, who suggested the air and missile strikes launched by the international coalition exceeded the bounds set by UN Resolution 1973, appeared to have dampened its enthusiasm.

"We want to verify very carefully all the actions undertaken in order to verify consistency with the (UN) resolution objectives," Frattini told reporters as he joined his counterparts for talks.

"Italy accepted to take part in the international coalition exactly to implement a ceasefire, the cessation of violence, and protection of the population."

Monday's ministerial meeting is the first test of the continent's unity over events taking place in Europe's backyard, though only a third of its members are actively involved in the Libya campaign.

Apart from Britain and France, leading the coalition with the United States, involved so far are Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy and Spain.

At the talks, the EU is expected also to tighten the political and economic screws on Gaddadi with a new slate of sanctions against the Tripoli regime, as well as look at the potential for a humanitarian crisis.

But diplomatic sources who asked not to be identified reported difficulties in drafting a joint statement on Libya as divisions also emerged on a possible NATO role in upholding the UN resolution.

"Europe needs to come together behind the UN resolution to protect the Libyan people against the wrath of their rulers," said Britain's minister for Europe David Lidington.

Germany, at odds with the other two "big" EU powers Britain and France after refusing to vote in favour of Resolution 1973, joined the Brussels meeting criticising alliance action in Libya and saying it justified Berlin's decision to stay out in the cold.

"We always said we wouldn't send soldiers," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "This does not mean we are neutral, this does not mean that we have any sympathy with the dictator Gaddafi.

But "we calculated the risks," he added. "And when we see that three days after this intervention began, the Arab League has already criticised this intervention, I think we see we had good reasons."

Finland's outspoken Alexander Stubb brushed aside the controversy, saying "let's not make mountains out of molehills."
The UN resolution offered "a very broad mandate to protect civilians," he said. "We're only 48 hours into the intervention. So far so good!"

In Cairo on Monday, Mussa downplayed his Sunday statement saying the military campaign differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone.

He said the comments had been motivated by concerns about civilians being caught up in the coalition strikes, as Arab governments did not want to see more deaths in Libya.

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