Representative of Libyan rebels opposes EU force


THE LIBYAN opposition’s transitional national council (TNC) opposes plans to deploy an EU force to Libya to ensure the delivery of aid supplies, a representative for the council said during a visit to Ireland yesterday.

The EU took the decision to prepare the mission, which needs UN approval, earlier this month. An operational headquarters for the proposed force, which has been named Eufor Libya, has already been established in Rome under the command of an Italian rear-admiral.

Officials are drawing up operational instructions concerning the size of the force, its equipment and make-up, and the rules of engagement. The mission would be deployed only following a request from the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha). The Department of Defence is considering a request for Ireland to deploy two Army personnel to the mission headquarters in Rome.

Guma el-Gamaty, the UK co-ordinator for the TNC, told Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore during a meeting yesterday that the council opposed plans for a ground force, even if it had a humanitarian mandate.

“We are still of the position that sending ground troops to Libya could be counterproductive and could hand Gadafy a very strong card to play with,” Mr el-Gamaty said after the meeting.

“It could be divisive. We could lose some public opinion support in the Arab and Muslim world, and also within Libya itself, where we could lose those waverers who might be thinking of deserting Gadafy and taking a strong stand against him.

“We believe there are other ways of supporting the Libyan people and the revolution by, for example, allowing arms into Misrata [the besieged rebel-held town in western Libya] so that fighters there could hold a much stronger position, push out Gadafy’s forces and break the siege.”

However, last night a Benghazi-based spokesman for the TNC said it would be open to having UN-designated ground troops to protect aid deliveries.

Mr el-Gamaty briefed Mr Gilmore on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Misurata and other parts of Libya and urged Ireland to follow the example of France, Italy and Qatar in recognising the TNC as the sole representative and interlocutor of the Libyan people.

“I told the Minister that this would send a very positive message to the Libyan people that the Irish Government and people are on their side and it also sends a strong message to Gadafy that no one wants to do business with him any more,” said Mr el-Gamaty.

“Mr Gilmore said that, in practical terms, he does look at the council as the true interlocutor and voice of the Libyan people, he does recognise our aspiration for a transition to democracy and he believes that Gadafy and his sons must leave power.

“However, he reminded us that the policy of the Irish Government is to recognise states and not political bodies.”

Mr el-Gamaty said several countries had expressed interest in officially recognising the TNC, including Norway, Spain, Bulgaria, Kuwait and Morocco. “Hopefully in next days and weeks, we will see some more come out,” he added.