Italy Cease-Fire Call Reveals Possible NATO Split on Libya

Posted June 22nd, 2011 at 7:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Possible cracks have emerged in NATO's air campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as France and Britain rejected an Italian call for a halt to military action in order to allow aid access.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini Wednesday called for a suspension in fighting so aid corridors could be set up to bring supplies to Libya's population, which he said was facing “a dramatic humanitarian situation.”

Britain's Guardian newspaper quoted outgoing Arab League head Amr Moussa as also calling for a cease-fire, saying now is the time to reach a political solution to the crisis.

Frattini's comments drew a swift rebuke from NATO ally France. Foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the coalition must “intensify the pressure on Mr. Gadhafi” because any pause in operations would allow him to gain time and reorganize. Britain, one of the first countries to support Libya's rebellion along with France, agreed.

The Libyan leader issued a defiant audio message broadcast late Wednesday, branding NATO states as “murderers” who have “killed our children and grandchildren.”

Meanwhile, anti-government rebels continue to attract international support.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi acknowledged Libya's Transitional National Council as an “important dialogue partner” that has become a vital political force in the North African country. Yang made the comment after a meeting in Beijing Wednesday with rebel envoy Mahmoud Jibril.

Also Wednesday, Denmark became the latest country to officially recognize the rebel council.

Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen made a surprise visit to the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where she conveyed the Danish parliament's decision to recognize the council and continue military support.

Rebels fighting Mr. Gadhafi's forces have taken over much of the eastern half of the country. They also control pockets in the west, including the vital port city of Misrata, about 200 kilometers from the capital, Tripoli.

A medical official at a field hospital near the front lines in Dafniya, west of Misrata, said at least two rebels were killed in renewed fighting Wednesday. Four opposition fighters died and 50 were wounded in clashes with loyalist forces the day before.

NATO acknowledged an airstrike on Sunday that caused civilian casualties and one on Friday that hit a column of rebel military vehicles. A NATO military spokesman said the Sunday incident was caused by a “weapon malfunction” and the Friday incident was a case of mistaken identity.

The alliance said Tuesday one of its unmanned drones disappeared over Libya, disputing reports that forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi had shot down a NATO attack helicopter.

Bracken said the alliance lost track of the drone helicopter along the central Libyan coast and is investigating the incident. It is not clear whether ground fire or a mechanical failure brought down the drone.