Rebel leader in Libya demands more of NATO
The top general for Libya’s rebels lashed out at NATO forces for not doing enough against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and threatened to take his complaint to the U.N. Security Council.
“I would like to say to you people that NATO did not provide to us what we need,” Abdul Fatah Younis said at a news conference in the rebel capital, Benghazi.
Kadafi’s forces and the rebels have reached a stalemate since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began airstrikes in late March. The Security Council approved the bombardments to protect civilians at a time when Kadafi’s fighters were on the doorstep of Benghazi. Now rebels are upset by NATO’s failure to bomb Kadafi’s fighters near the refinery city of Port Brega or to end his siege of the western city of Misurata.
“NATO should be with us or we will ask the [Transitional National Council, the rebel government] to raise this to the Security Council. This is a dangerous situation,” Younis said.
“If NATO wanted to remove the siege on Misurata, they would have done so days ago,” Younis said. “And they’re using the excuse that ‘we don’t want to kill civilians.’ Every day, women, children and seniors are being killed. This crime will be hanging from the necks of the international community until the end of days.”
Younis was giving voice to the frustration felt by rebel government officials and fighters, who said it takes up to eight hours for NATO to respond to a request for help against Kadafi’s forces.
NATO’s chief of operations, Dutch Brig. Gen. Mark van Uhm, said NATO carried out 14 airstrikes against pro-Kadafi forces Monday, hitting an air defense site and tanks around the city of Misurata and a rocket launcher that was firing near Port Brega. Overall, NATO warplanes, joined by aircraft from Sweden, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, flew 150 missions Monday.
U.S. warplanes ended their combat role at 6 p.m. Monday, according to the Pentagon. One of the final U.S. attacks came 15 minutes before the deadline, as Marine Harrier jets struck targets south of Misurata, a spokesman said.
Younis also was a target for anger at the news conference: Someone shouted that the general had ordered troops to fire on demonstrators before he resigned as interior minister on the third day of the uprising in February.
“You were giving orders to kill civilians and children until the 20th of February!” the man screamed before being dragged from the room. Younis insisted he was innocent and said that as interior minister he had issued a decree making it a crime for police to fire on crowds
The outburst underscored the ambivalence toward Younis among the rebels, who view him with suspicion for the integral role he played in Kadafi’s regime. Until last week, he was in a fierce struggle with a rival general to run the rebel security forces, but the rebel government has reaffirmed his position in statements.
In Tripoli, Kadafi’s deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, took a hard line against the rebel government, calling it illegitimate and ruling out any political future for its participants.
“According to international law, this is a self-appointed group of people,” Kaim told reporters. “They do not represent the popular base in Libya. Even the way this transitional council was announced … does not give them any legal status so we could deal with them accordingly.”
Italy and France have recognized the rebel government as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, enraging Kadafi supporters.
Kaim’s stance contradicted his earlier assertion that the Kadafi regime was prepared to engage in a “national dialogue” to resolve the country’s worst crisis in decades. The rebel leaders have ruled out any compromise that keeps power in the hands of Kadafi or his sons.
Meanwhile, the fighting on Libya’s coast continued with no end in sight. Hours of what one witness described as random shelling by government forces on the rebel-controlled city of Misurata left at least two people dead Tuesday, including a 10-year-old and a member of the medical staff treating the wounded. The city, the country’s third-largest, has been under siege and sustained heavy damage after nearly six weeks of warfare.
Libyan authorities took journalists to the western city of Zawiya, 30 miles west of the capital, on Tuesday after the U.N.'s special envoy to Libya, Abdelilah Al-Khatib, told the Security Council on Monday that fighting between rebel and regime forces had broken out in the once-rebel-controlled city in recent days.
The closely managed trip included visits to a hospital, a girls school, a damaged police station and the city’s war-ravaged central square. Though the areas shown to journalists appeared calm, there was no way to independently determine whether fighting had taken place there recently.
Authorities apparently fear that reports of renewed fighting in Zawiya could justify coalition airstrikes on nearby military targets, including the headquarters of a brigade run by Khamis Moammar Kadafi, one of the leader’s sons.
Times staff writer David S. Cloud in Washington contributed to this report.
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