Red Cross: Libya in 'Civil War;' France Recognizes Opposition As 'Legitimate' Voice Of People

The International Red Cross said today that Libya is in the midst of a civil war as government forces launched a major new offensive against opposition fighters in the east. Meanwhile, across Europe, diplomatic pressure is growing against Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi -- with France formally ...

Battles are under way on both military and diplomatic fronts between loyalists of Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi and opposition forces who seized cities across the country last month.

Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in Geneva today that Libya is now engaged in a "civil war" and that a "further intensification of the fighting" is expected:

President Nicolas Sarkozy (left) meets with Libyan National Council emissaries in Paris.
On the diplomatic front, opposition envoys from Libya's eastern town of Benghazi successfully lobbied French President Nicolas Sarkozy on March 10 to obtain French recognition of their so-called "National Council" as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Sarkozy's office said France plans to send an ambassador to opposition-held Benghazi and also to receive an envoy from Libya's opposition as an ambassador in Paris.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will meet Libyan opposition leaders during a Middle East trip next week, as part of Washington’s strategy to help pro-democracy forces oust Qaddafi.

Clinton said U.S. officials are "reaching out to the opposition inside and outside of Libya," and said she will meet personally with opposition figures during her travels in Egypt and Tunisia.

In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers and NATO defense ministers met to discuss preparations for possible military action ahead of an EU leaders' summit on March 11.

EU and NATO nations have been united in calling for Qaddafi to leave power. But there appear to be divisions over implementing stronger measures such as an air-exclusion zone.

Speaking after the meeting, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said leaders discussed “initial options regarding a possible no-fly zone in case NATO were to receive a clear United Nations mandate."

Earlier, he said any such operation would need to have a “clear legal basis” and “firm regional support.”

Rasmussen said NATO is also taking action to ease the humanitarian crisis of people fleeing the conflict.

"We have also directed NATO military authorities to develop, as a matter of urgency, detailed planning with regard to humanitarian assistance and, provided [there is] a further UN Security Council resolution, more active measures to enforce the arms embargo," Rasmussen said.

No-Fly Zone Question

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton stressed that it is "critical" to keep in constant touch with diplomats from the Arab League so that any international response has legitimacy.

"This is for the Arab world to lead on in their economic and political future and for us to be there to support. And that is critical to me," Ashton said.

The potential involvement of foreign military forces was the topic of an interview Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam gave on March 10 to journalists in Tripoli.

He vowed that his father’s government would “never surrender” to what he called “those terrorists,” saying “The Libyan nation is so united now. We are so strong."

"If [France and the West] want to support the militia, do it. But I will tell you right now, you are going to lose. We will win. And we are not afraid of the American fleet, NATO, France, the Europeans. This is our country. We live here, we die here," Saif al-Islam Qaddafi said.

On the ground in Libya, pro-Qaddafi forces on March 10 launched what is being described by correspondents as a major new offensive against opposition forces at the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf.

Pro-Qaddafi troops reportedly were trying to advance toward Ras Lanuf from three directions -- along the coastal highway from the west, from across open desert to the south, and using Libyan warships in the sea to the north.

The government troops were firing heavy artillery barrages into Ras Lanuf for the first time today, as well as continuing to use mortars and rocket launchers against opposition fighters.

Libyan air force jets were continuing to bomb oil terminal facilities at Ras Lanuf for a second day -- reportedly leaving dozens dead and sending enormous plumes of black smoke into the sky from burning oil storage tanks. But Libyan officials stressed that the fires were burning relatively tiny oil storage tanks rather than a major crude oil storage facility that contains 2,500 times as much oil.

Opposition forces were fighting back at Ras Lanuf with missile launchers, rockets and antiaircraft guns.

Meanwhile, opposition fighters trying to advance on the nearby government controlled town of Bin Jawad were repelled on March 10 by air strikes and direct fire from Libyan army tanks.

To the west of Tripoli, there are conflicting claims about who controls the city of Al-Zawiyah. Pro-Qaddafi troops claimed to have retaken the city in the last 24 hours after a five-day siege involving tanks, truck-mounted multiple-fire rocket launchers, and air strikes.

But opposition fighters said they retook parts of Al-Zawiyah from government forces today.

Opposition leaders in Libya were showing signs of nervousness about the new government offensive -- renewing their calls for the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and bring an end to air strikes by the Libyan air force.

France and Britain have been among those backing a United Nations Security Council resolution that would impose a no-fly zone. Other countries, including the United States, say a no-fly zone must be assured of broad international backing -- including support from regional leaders in North Africa and from Arab states.

Russia has rejected the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya.  But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has joined international efforts to isolate Qaddafi's regime economically for attacks on Libyan civilians.

Medvedev -- joining other UN Security Council permanent members in ordering an arms embargo against Libya and other sanctions against Qaddafi's family -- signed a decree in Moscow that bans the "export, sale, and delivery to Libya of all kinds of weapons and associated materials."

Medvedev's decree stipulates that all cargo bound for or from Libya will be carefully inspected if there is "information that gives reason to believe that the cargo carries material subject to the ban."

The German government has ordered a freeze on bank accounts in Germany that are held by the Libyan central bank and the Libyan Investment Authority. That move is seen as additional pressure aimed at cutting off potential sources of income for Qaddafi.

Germany's Economy Ministry said the freeze came in response to a European Union decision earlier this week to clamp down on Libyan state bank funds that are controlled by Qaddafi. The ministry also said the freeze would be imposed on the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio and the Libyan Foreign Bank.

written by Ron Synovitz with agency contribution


Copyright (c) RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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