Paris and London to back no-fly zone


FRANCE AND Britain have said they will support calls for a no-fly zone over Libya if Muammar Gadafy’s forces continue attacks on the country’s citizens.

French foreign minister Alain Juppé signalled a hardening of French rhetoric when he said Paris and London would present contingency plans for a no-fly zone at next week’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels. However, he reiterated his belief that military intervention “in the current circumstances” would be unwelcome and counterproductive.

Speaking after a meeting with his British counterpart, William Hague, in Paris yesterday, Mr Juppé said they agreed Col Gadafy should stand down and were working on “bold and ambitious” proposals for the special EU summit on the unrest in north Africa.

“France, for its part, does not think that in the current circumstances military intervention, Nato forces, would be welcomed south of the Mediterranean and could be counterproductive,” Mr Juppé said.

“That said, given the threats from Col Gadafy, we have to be in a position to react and that is why we agreed to [draft] plans for a no-fly zone over Libya,” he added.

The ministers agreed to strengthen economic and financial pressure aimed at forcing Col Gadafy to relinquish power. “We will do everything we can to increase the pressure on the Gadafy regime and help to end the violence,” Mr Hague said.

British prime minister David Cameron said earlier this week his country was considering plans for a military no-fly zone, while US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Washington was “taking no options off the table” so long as the Libyan government continued “to turn its guns on its own people”. While maintaining diplomats pressure, however, the Obama administration has been playing down the idea of an internationally enforced no-fly zone.

Defence secretary Robert Gates echoed reservations expressed by a senior US general, saying that such a move “begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences”. France maintains its position that any military action would require a clear mandate from the UN security council, where any proposal is likely to meet scepticism from Russia and China. Mr Juppé said France and Britain were in agreement “on the fact that the international community . . . must continue to plan for different scenarios, including that of a no-fly zone, in order to be sure that we can respond rapidly and resolutely to events in Libya.” But they also agreed that any decision must have international legal backing.

“A few western countries” could not decide alone, Mr Juppé said. “We absolutely need the participation of governments in the region.”

Mr Juppé also rejected a mediation proposal on Libya tabled by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, saying France could not support an initiative that envisaged Gadafy remaining in power.