By RFE RL
By Nikola Krastev for RFE/RL
The United Nations Security Council has cleared the way for international military intervention in the Libyan war.
The Security Council on March 17 approved a resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya in a move aimed at limiting Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi’s ability to launch attacks on opposition forces.
The measure supports “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from attacks by Qaddafi’s forces. However, the resolution rules out sending foreign ground troops into Libyan territory.
The measure passed on a vote of 10-0, with five Security Council members abstaining, including Russia, China, Brazil, India, and Germany.
Diplomats are quoted as saying the resolution appears to clear the way for air strikes targeting Qaddafi’s forces from a coalition led by Britain, France, and the United States.
The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama had called the British and French leaders, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, to discuss measures to “ensure the enforcement” of the resolution.
The White House statement said the three leaders agreed that the Libyan regime must immediately comply with the terms of the resolution and halt violence against civilians.
Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said during the council session that Qaddafi had blatantly disregarded the previous UN resolution, adopted on February 26, calling him to stop the assault on his own people.
“The central purpose of this resolution is clear: to end the violence, to protect civilians, and to allow the people of Libya to determine their own future free from the tyranny of the Qaddafi regime,” Grant said.
Some UN diplomats said privately that even though the passage and the language of the resolution were unusually swift and strong by the UN standards, it may be coming too late.
According to the latest reports, Qaddafi loyalists are preparing in the coming hours to launch a major offensive against Benghazi, the rebels main stronghold. But it is not clear if Qaddafi forces have the military capacity to assault such a large city.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said the resolution empowers the newly established Libyan Sanctions Committee to impose sanctions on those who violate the arms embargo, including countries that provide Qaddafi with mercenaries.
“This resolution also strengthens enforcement of the arms embargo and bans all international flights by Libyan owned or operated aircraft,” Rice said. “The resolution freezes the assets of seven more individuals and five entities including key state owned Libyan companies.”
The council also established a panel of experts to monitor and enhance short and long-term implementation of the sanctions on Libya.
Five council members, including permanent members China and Russia, expressed skepticism toward the provision for the use of force but in the end decided to abstain instead of using their veto power.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow disagreed with the “all necessary measures” provision because it puts a heavy responsibility on the international community to refrain from excessive force.
“The responsibility for the inevitable humanitarian consequences of the excessive use of outside [military] force in the Libyan situation would be entirely the burden of those who would resort to such actions,” Churkin said. “If this is to happen, then the victims will be not only the civilian population of Libya but also the interests for the protection of peace and security in the whole region of the North Africa and the Middle East.”
In a statement, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “We are still very skeptical about the option of a military intervention in Libya, also contained in the resolution. We see considerable risks in this. Therefore we cannot subscribe to this part of the resolution. German soldiers will not participate in a military action in Libya.”
From the first debate on the council it was clear that although members disagreed on some points, Qaddafi enjoyed no support and all members were convinced he must leave power.
Following the passage of the resolution, celebratory gunfire was heard in the opposition-held Libyan city of Benghazi.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the adoption of the resolution and called it a statement “a historic decision.”
He said he expects council members to act “immediately” on the resolution’s provisions.