Naval and air forces close in on Libya as David Cameron plans no-fly zone to protect civilians

UK Guardian
February 28, 2011

The west is edging towards a possible military confrontation with Muammar Gaddafi‘s regime, as the US deployed naval and air force units around Libya, and David Cameron ordered contingency plans for a no-fly zone.

The prime minister said he had told the Ministry of Defence and the chief of the defence staff to draw up the plans in coordination with Britain’s Nato allies and report back to him within days.

A no-fly zone would be designed principally to prevent attacks on Libyan people by the Gaddafi regime – mainly by his helicopter gun ships.

Cameron suggested the UK might even consider arming the Libyan opposition forces if Tripoli used more violence to crush demonstrations.

Officials said discussions on a range of possible military options had begun last week between British and US officials at the Pentagon. They said that the support of US and British armed forces might also be required to protect corridors to channel humanitarian relief into Libya through Tunisia and Egypt if further conflict brought about a mass displacement of the population and a collapse in the food supply.

The prime minister discussed imposing a no-fly zone over Libya in a telephone call with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. An emergency summit of all the EU’s 27 leaders is now expected to be held in Brussels nest week .

Gaddafi remained defiant. “They love me, all my people love me,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “They would die to protect me.” He again blamed al-Qaida for the rebellions. “This is al-Qaida, not my people,” Gaddafi said. “They come from outside.”

Western officials say any military intervention in the unfolding conflict would require the approval of the UN Security Council, and that is far from guaranteed. Russia and China, who both hold a veto, have voiced their opposition to any outside interference.

A diplomatic source at the UN headquarters in New York said however that more security council meetings were likely this week and the pressure for action would rise as the bloodshed and suffering continued in Libya. “We have not yet reached the high-water mark for council involvement,” the source said.

The Gaddafi regime has continued to use its air force against the opposition. Libyan air force jets bombed the rebel-held city of Ajdabiya, 160 kilometres south of Benghazi this afternoon, the furthest east that loyalist forces have attacked since both cities were sacked nine days ago.

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