France urges G8 to back call for no-fly zone


LIBYA:AS FRANCE pressed G8 foreign ministers meeting in Paris last night to support its call for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Libya, forces loyal to Col Muammar Gadafy bombed Libyan rebels in an offensive that has pushed them back 160km (100 miles) in a week.

Loyalist artillery and tanks retook the small town of Zuwarah, 120km west of Tripoli, after heavy bombardment. Perhaps more significantly, they were shrinking the swathe of eastern Libya still held by revolutionary forces.

They took the important eastern oil terminal town of Brega late on Sunday, and yesterday flew behind rebel lines to bomb Ajdabiyah, the only sizeable town between Brega and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Yesterday a French foreign ministry spokesman said “no option could be ruled out” and that the international community had shown a “firm commitment to protecting Libyan citizens”.

France and Britain have led calls to impose a no-fly zone, and the issue was expected to dominate last night’s dinner of foreign ministers from France, the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton met French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the Élysée Palace.

A spokesman for foreign minister Alain Juppé said: “The conclusions from the March 11th European summit and the Arab League’s March 12th resolution [calling for a no-fly zone] clearly demonstrate the international community’s firm commitment to protecting Libyan civilians.

“This issue will be discussed as a priority at the foreign minister’s meeting with his G8 counterparts with the aim of reaching an agreement that will enable the security council . . . to move forward as fast as possible.”

Russia, Germany and the US indicated they are wary of military action in Libya, while Canadian foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said his country wanted more details of how a no-fly zone would be implemented. British foreign secretary William Hague said the world was “reaching a point of decision” on a no-fly zone.

Striking a cautious note, however, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle acknowledged that the Arab League supported a UN-approved no-fly zone, but noted that “at the same time, it rejected any form of foreign, international intervention”.

Discussions were continuing between diplomats on the UN Security Council over possible military options.

France and Britain have not tabled a resolution, but French UN ambassador Gérard Araud said Lebanon, the sole Arab member of the security council, would play a key role in negotiations on a draft text. Lebanese ambassador Nawaf Salam when asked if it was too late for a no-fly zone, replied: “It’s never too late.”

Having been heavily criticised for its clumsy handling of the Tunisian revolt, France has sought to reassert itself by taking a lead role in diplomatic efforts to oust Col Gadafy. Last week, it became the first country to recognise the opposition Libyan National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa met United Nations special envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib in Tripoli yesterday and agreed to hold a second meeting today, the official Jana news agency reported last night.