NATO to move ships but delays Libya no-fly zone

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NATO says it would move ships closer to Libya in response to persistent violence there but a no-fly zone would require more planning, a United Nations mandate and strong Arab support.

NATO ministers also agreed that a no-fly zone, sought by Libyan rebels to ward off attacks by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, would require a “demonstrable need.”
“We considered … initial options regarding a possible no-fly zone in case NATO were to receive a clear U.N. mandate,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, Reuters reports.
“Ministers agreed that further planning will be required.”

Rasmussen said NATO military authorities would develop plans to help provide humanitarian assistance to Libya and, given U.N. backing, do more to enforce the existing arms embargo.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who has appeared cool to the idea of a no-fly zone, said NATO had agreed to continue planning for all military options on Libya.

Gates said NATO would not increase the number of ships it had in the Mediterranean but would move ships already in the region closer to Libya.

Contingency planning on a no-fly zone will continue, he said, adding “We are very mindful of opinion in the region.”
“That’s one of the reasons that one of the three central criteria with respect to any action requires strong regional support,” he said.
“A number of ministers made clear that we wanted to put ourselves in a position to assist the Arab League, African Union or U.N. in this endeavour.”

POSSIBLE FAILED STATE

Libyan tanks fired on rebel positions in the oil port of Ras Lanuf Thursday and warplanes hit another oil hub as Gaddafi carried out counter-attacks against rebels who have risen up against his 41-year rule.
“At this stage it is unclear which future direction the country will take,” Rasmussen said. “What is clear is that the international community is united in condemning outrageous and systematic violence against the Libyan people and that our first concern must be the plight of the civilian population.”

He said there was a risk Libya could become a divided, failed state that could be a haven for extremists or terrorists.
“So obviously this is a matter of concern,” he said. “We strongly urge the government of Libya to stop violence and allow a peaceful transition to democracy.”

Britain and France have been seeking U.N. authority to impose a no-fly zone as Gaddafi’s forces battle rebels, but analysts doubt Russia and China would back this.

Gates has warned that a no-fly zone would need air strikes to cripple Libyan air defences and expressed concern about more U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said Arab support was vital.
“There was a feeling that if we undertook such a mission and we didn’t have one of the Arab countries involved with us it could be open to misinterpretation by those who would want to do so and could be politically damaging.”

Rasmussen said NATO had stepped up surveillance in the Mediterranean and was increasing the operating capability of NATO’s AWACS aircraft over Libya to 24 hours a day.



Britain has envisaged a more limited option of a no-fly zone than that laid out by Gates, with Fox saying the threat of retaliation could be used rather than destroying air defences.