AP Interview: UN says Libya may need no-fly zone

AP News
Posted: Feb 23, 2011 1:23 PM
AP Interview: UN says Libya may need no-fly zone

A no-fly zone may be imposed over Libya to protect civilians from attacks by government aircraft, the U.N.'s top human rights official said Wednesday.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says if unconfirmed reports of aerial attacks against civilians turn out to be true, "I think there's an immediate need for that level of protection."

In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Pillay said she was "appalled" by the level of violence in Libya because protesters are only demanding basic human rights.

There have been increasing calls for the U.N. to mandate a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace in order to prevent Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from ordering his air force to carry out strikes against protesters who have taken over control of several cities.

Libya's own deputy ambassador at the U.N. who now calls for Gadhafi's ouster, has urged the world body to enforce a no-fly zone over the country to protect protesters. Peru, which has suspended diplomatic relations with Libya, has also asked the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace.

"I am astonished because this is firing and using violence against civilians asking for their human rights," Pillay said. "The whole world understands fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, a democratic government."

Reports on the size and effectiveness of the Libyan air force vary.

It has been reported to have more than 35,000 members, together with over 400 combat aircraft and helicopter gunships. But much of its equipment is obsolete, dating back to the 1970s and 80s, and many of its aircraft are unserviceable. Training standards are said to be poor.

Morale also appears to be low in the service. On Monday, two air force colonels defected to Malta in their French-made Mirage fighter jets and sought political asylum.