Libya rebels plead for foreign forces or ‘we will die’
MISRATA, Libya — A rebel official in Libya’s besieged city of Misrata pleaded desperately on Tuesday for Britain and France to send troops to help fight strongman Moamer Kadhafi’s forces, saying “if they don’t, we will die.”
In the first request by any insurgents for boots on the ground, a senior member of Misrata’s governing council, Nuri Abdullah Abdullati, said they were asking for the troops on the basis of “humanitarian” principles.
Previously, he told reporters, “we did not accept any foreign soldiers in our country, but now, as we face these crimes of Kadhafi, we are asking on the basis of humanitarian and Islamic principles for someone to come and stop the killing.”
“Before we were asking for no foreign interference, but that was before Kadhafi used Grad rockets and planes. Now it’s a life or death situation.”
His plea came as Kadhafi and rebel forces engaged in fierce fighting in southeast Misrata.
The din subsided only briefly when NATO planes were heard overhead, but picked up immediately afterwards.
The rebels in Misrata, which has been under siege for more than a month and seen hundreds killed, have no direct contact with coalition forces. Abdullati said the request was sent last week to the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi, but there had yet been no reply.
Earlier on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he was “entirely hostile” to sending troops into Libya, even special forces to guide in air strikes.
NATO allies began their second month bombing Kadhafi forces on Tuesday, but there appeared no end in sight to what experts are warning will be a prolonged stalemate with mounting civilian casualties.
But France did say it will step up air strikes on Kadhafi forces to protect civilians, and Britain promised to put military advisers on the ground.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said France will “intensify our military effort from our air force to prevent Kadhafi forces from pursuing their attacks on civilian populations.”
“But at the same time, we will need to find a political solution, that is conditions for a dialogue so that the Libyan crisis can be resolved,” he said in Kiev.
“This crisis will not be resolved by the military action of the coalition.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London would send military officers to rebel-held eastern Libya, but that they would not be involved in training or arming the rebels, or help in planning operations.
Earlier, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the conflict had so far killed 10,000 people and wounded 55,000, citing TNC figures.
Frattini, speaking in Rome after talks with rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, also said Italy will host talks next month on allowing oil exports from eastern Libya and could provide rebels with night-vision kit and radars.
The meeting would also try to find ways of using Kadhafi regime assets frozen around the world to aid the rebels and would discuss the question of arming the rebels.
Hague said Britain is sending “experienced” officers to help rebels improve their organisation, communications and logistics.
However, he said they “will not be involved in training or arming the opposition?s fighting forces” or in the planning or execution of the TNC?s military operations or providing any other form of operational military advice.
Instead, they will advise rebels on how to improve their organisational structures, communications and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid.
France and Britain, which launched the first air strikes on March 19, have struggled to convince allies to intensify the air war while NATO commanders are scrambling to obtain even a few more ground-attack jets.
Last week, London, Paris and Washington jointly vowed to keep up the campaign until Kadhafi leaves power, but the resilient strongman has defied his foes.
“We are going to have to settle in for the long haul. Bombs won’t make him go,” said Nick Witney, European Council on Foreign Relations security expert, adding that it was up to the Libyan people to sort out their own future.
“I’m afraid that frustrating though it is, one has to accept that in military terms it is a stalemate, and it is going to stay that way until Libyans negotiate a solution to it. We just have to be patient,” he said.
But Abdel Jalil said “Kadhafi will never give up power except by force,” and his advisers said no type of political mediation was planned.
Meanwhile, the world community scrambled to provide humanitarian aid to Libya and to evacuate those fleeing the fighting, mostly foreign workers.
With thousands clamouring to escape Misrata, Britain said it would charter ships to pick up 5,000 migrant workers after a ferry rescued nearly 1,000 on Monday.
A Greek ferry chartered by Qatar was preparing to take out another 1,100, an AFP correspondent said — roughly half of them Libyans and half from other African countries.
The UN World Food Programme said it had opened up a lifeline from Tunisia to western Libya, with a convoy bringing wheat flour and high-energy biscuits enough to feed nearly 50,000 people for 30 days.
The UN also said the government has granted “safe passage” for United Nations teams in Misrata.
The government also agreed to let a UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs mission into Misrata to assess the situation, said UN humanitarian spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker.
But the head of the Red Crescent in Misrata was sceptical the regime would deliver on its promise.
“Kadhafi says a lot of nonsense,” Omar Abu Zaid told AFP. “We would like anything to help the people of Misrata. But we don’t trust Kadhafi.”
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged the African Union to exert pressure on Tripoli to comply with an African Court order to stop attacking civilians.
The March 25 ruling was the first against a state by the African Court on Human and Peoples? Rights (the African Court).
In fighting, Libya’s official news agency JANA reported that NATO air strikes on Tuesday hit Tripoli, Kadhafi’s home town of Sirte and Aziziyah, south of the capital.
In Washington, the defence department said US warplanes had flown more than 800 sorties over Libya since handing control of the campaign’s operations to NATO.
Fighting also raged into the night in Zawiya, around 15 kilometres (nine miles) southwest of Misrata city centre, with heavy incoming fire pounding the residential district, an AFP reporter said.