Russia urges NATO to probe Libyan deaths

AP News
Posted: Dec 19, 2011 10:10 PM
Russia urges NATO to probe Libyan deaths

Russia urged NATO on Monday to investigate civilian deaths in Libya from its bombing campaign, saying the alliance's claim that there were no civilian casualties is untrue.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he has been asking NATO to give "a definitive report" to the U.N. Security Council summing up its activities in Libya. But he said "unfortunately" the alliance only provided "piecemeal, rather perfunctory reports... (that) were not very informative."

Russia holds the council presidency this month and Churkin told reporters he will raise the issue of civilian casualties when it discusses Libya on Thursday.

NATO's 7-month air campaign against Libya was hailed as a triumph by the alliance and its supporters for setting the country on the path to a democratic transition after the ouster and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said the NATO campaign was intended to protect Libyan civilians.

"The NATO mission in Libya was responsible for saving tens of thousands of innocent civilians from imminent slaughter by a madman," Kornblau said.

But the operation's critics _ including Russia, China and the African Union _ have argued that NATO misused the limited U.N. resolution imposing a no-fly zone and authorizing the protection of civilians as a pretext to promote regime change.

"Unfortunately, NATO adopted the pure propaganda style, claiming zero civilian casualties in Libya which was completely implausible first of all and secondly not true," Churkin said.

He said it was "cruel and cynical" for people whose houses were destroyed, whose relatives were killed or injured, and who are suffering from stigma because their neighbors suspect they were bombed because they were Gadhafi sympathizers, "to be told that actually nothing of this kind happened."

He said he was sure the United Nations could provide help in thoroughly investigating civilian casualties from NATO aerial bombing if the alliance "is reluctant to do it on their own."

Churkin also criticized U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for supporting NATO's claim of zero casualties, but he praised the U.N. chief for also saying "there must be no misunderstanding about civilian casualties in Libya."

Last month, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu in Brussels said NATO is confident its forces carried out the campaign "in full compliance with international law."

During NATO's seven-month campaign, which ended on Oct. 31, its warplanes flew 26,000 sorties, including more than 9,600 strike missions, destroying more than 1,000 tanks, vehicles, and guns.

NATO leaders have hailed the precision with which the mission was carried out, citing the small number of civilian deaths caused by the bombing as evidence of its success. Representatives of the military alliance based in Brussels have said that all NATO air strikes in Libya were aimed at military targets.

The relatively quick victory in Libya represented a major boost for the Cold War alliance which is bogged down in a 10-year war in Afghanistan, a 12-year mission in Kosovo, and anti-piracy operation off the Somali coastline.