NATO chief says he favors financing Libyan rebels

AP News
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Posted: May 04, 2011 1:11 PM
NATO chief says he favors financing Libyan rebels

European powers appeared to be losing patience Wednesday with the stalemate in Libya as the foreign ministers of both France and Italy called for an end to the international military action there as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, support for giving money to the Libyan rebels _ presumably to buy arms, equipment and munitions with which to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi _ seemed to be growing as the taste for a long air war waned. Officials from countries involved in the military campaign will announce ways to help the rebels financially as they meet Thursday in Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

"I am definitely in favor of taking all necessary measures to put the maximum pressure on the Gadhafi regime," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will participate in the conference, said at a news conference in Brussels. "And I do believe it would be protection of civilians in Libya if Gadhafi was forced to step down. It would be helpful if the opposition were to be financed properly."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, speaking Wednesday on France 24 TV, also said the rebels needed help.

In Washington a day earlier, a State Department spokesman had said the aim of the conference in Rome would be to figure out how to get financial help to the opposition Transitional National Council, led by Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who used to be Gadhafi's justice minister.

Abdel-Jalil will attend the conference, as will U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is scheduled to arrive in Rome late Wednesday.

NATO's mandate, agreed to by its 28 member countries, does not include toppling Gadhafi. But it does include protecting civilians, and Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday that it was hard to imagine that civilians would be safe as long as Gadhafi remained in power.

On Saturday, NATO bombed a Gadhafi family compound, killing one of his sons and three grandchildren. NATO officials have denied they are hunting Gadhafi to break the battlefield stalemate and said the attack targeted one of the regime's command and control centers.

"NATO does not target individuals," Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari said Wednesday. "This is not a hypothesis we consider because NATO is targeting military targets."

However, Massari said that "collateral damage ... tends to be more likely when Gadhafi himself as a tactic tries to mix up military and civilian targets."

A Libyan rebel spokesman said in Rome that he considers Gadhafi a legitimate target.

"Gadhafi is the commander in chief, he is running this bloody war against his people. For us Libyans _ I am not talking about NATO _ Gadhafi is a legitimate target," Mahmoud Shamam said. "If he chooses to keep his family under that roof, he's the one who's responsible."

NATO's official goals are the cessation of all attacks on civilians, the return to their bases of all forces threatening civilians, and a guarantee of unhindered humanitarian access to all Libyans in need.

But in a stark reminder that those goals have yet to be achieved, Gadhafi's forces were reported Wednesday to have bombarded an area near the port of Misrata while an international aid ship sent to evacuate fleeing migrant workers was docked. Mahdi Bensasi of the Libyan Red Crescent says Wednesday's strike killed four migrants _ a women, a man and two children who were in a migrant camp nearby.

Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday he detected no fatigue among NATO members regarding the military action in Libya. But some military experts say it is nearly impossible to dislodge a government with air power alone. And senior officials in Both France and Italy went public with, if not fatigue, marked impatience over the lack of an endgame.

Juppe, the French foreign minister, said the military intervention must end "as rapidly as possible," and warned that sending in international ground troops would set the stage for a "quagmire." France has been a major backer of the rebels and of the NATO-led campaign against Gadhafi's military.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told lawmakers Wednesday that, while it was impossible to set a date for an end of the operations, the "political goal is for military action to cease as soon as possible." Italy has been allowing NATO aircraft to use its bases for the Libyan mission, and recently stepped up its involvement by allowing its own aircraft to bomb military targets.

Following Frattini's remarks, Italian lawmakers voted to keep Italy in the NATO-led military operation but called for the Italian government and its allies to work out an endgame for military action. The lower house of parliament passed a motion 308-294 that calls for Italy and its allies to work out an endgame for the air strikes within a "certain timeframe." It also demands the government seek an immediate diplomatic solution to the conflict and rules out sending ground troops.

The reference to an endgame was intended to quell concerns of the Northern League, a key government party that has been opposed to the operation all along. The xenophobic party fears that NATO's bombing campaign could prompt thousands more migrants to flee to Italy from Libyan shores.

Massari, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, insisted that there would be no unilateral pullout from the NATO mission by Italy, and that any end to the mission is conditional on having achieved its objectives. He said the meeting in Rome on Thursday would not look to disengage but to look to "further engagement in all sectors _ the humanitarian sector, political sector _ to find a possible political solution" as well as financial.

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Melvin reported from Brussels.