The EU has a plan to send up to 1,000 troops to Libya to convoy humanitarian aid. The UN is far from keen, saying it may only go ahead as a “last resort”. Russia has voiced concern that Europe plans an invasion under the guise of a relief effort.
The draft plan, called “EUFOR Libya” was prepared by the 27 EU governments in early April. It provides for ground troops to be deployed in the western Libyan port city Misrata, which is under siege by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
The troops would be used to defend aid convoys only and not engage in combat unless attacked, said Michael Mann, chief spokesman for the European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, on Tuesday. The number of the force is not set yet, but it would be less than 1,000, he added.
The concept of the operation was sent to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for its consideration. Only if the United Nations asks for such help will the EU send its troops. The plan, however, was met with no enthusiasm. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the European military force may be requested only as a last resort.
“The Libyan government said that it would ensure unimpeded access through the Tunisian border into Libya up to Tripoli and said it would ensure safe passage for humanitarian workers to enter areas where the government of Libya is in control,” Ban said during a visit to Budapest.
The rebel city Misrata has been blocked from the ground by pro-Gaddafi troops for several weeks and suffers from lack of freshwater, food and medicine. City government estimates that about 1,000 people have been killed in the city of 300,000 during the hostilities.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe opposed the idea of sending troops to Libya to convoy humanitarian aid and thinks the rebels should co-ordinate NATO air strikes on Gaddafi forces by themselves, without any help from outside, reports France Presse on Tuesday.
“ I am absolutely against deploying troops on the ground…This work [the co-ordination of air strikes] should be done by the [rebel] Libyan National Council and its troops. They can do it without deployment of forces on the ground” Juppe told journalists on Tuesday.
Earlier, the head of the French Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Axel Poniatowski called for a ground operation in Libya, saying the bombing campaign against Gaddafi’s regime was inefficient. Some media reports suggested that Gaddafi’s army managed to preserve a bigger share of his equipment by hiding the tanks and other vehicles in the vast system of irrigation tunnels.
Poniatowski said the troops on the ground would coordinate air strikes and help prevent friendly fire incidents. The move, however, would require a UN Security Council mandate, since UN Resolution 1973, which gave the green light for the aerial operation, explicitly forbids any ground invasion.
There is no consensus within coalition members over a possible ground operation. Germany was skeptical over the campaign from the very beginning and said it will not give its troops for a ground operation. However, Berlin said it would back a UN-mandated humanitarian operation, which would be necessary for the EUFOR Libya plan to be implemented. The EU’s 1,500-strong joint forces, which would be used in the operation, are predominantly German.
Military advisors for rebels
Meanwhile, the UK plans to send military officers to advise the Libyan opposition in their fight against the government. The group will be deployed in the rebel capital Banghazi, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday.
The experienced military officers would join British diplomats already cooperating with rebel leaders, he said. They will help improve military organizational structures and offer help on communications and logistics, but will not be involved in supplying weapons to the rebels, or assist with their attacks on Gaddafi’s forces, reports the Associated Press.
Earlier, some media reports speculated that agents of the CIA and other foreign secret services are operating in Libya.
There were also reports that weapons are secretly supplied to the opposition.
Mark Durkan, an MP in the UK parliament for the Northern Ireland based SDLP party believes that Britain is increasingly in danger of getting into a “twilight zone” as far as the operation is concerned.
“On the one hand, David Cameron, President Sarkozy and President Obama are saying “we are not there for regime change”, on the other – “we are not giving up until we have the regime changed” says Durkan.
“You can’t say two contradictory rationales in terms of an operation of this sort of nature. You can’t say you’re getting under strict terms that won’t commit to ground troops but then you end up getting soaked in committing troops of various terms and guises. And it’s no way in to deal with another country; also it’s no way to deal with the armed forces of these people’s own country”
Fears of disguised invasion
Russia, which initially abstained from vetoing the no-fly zone operation in Libya, has been increasingly doubtful about how the campaign is being handled. NATO support of the rebels stands in the way of a negotiated peaceful settlement, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday.
“The problem is that the Libyan opposition forces, when they see the position of some western nations, categorically decline sitting at the negotiation table,” the minister explained, adding such attitude may serve a bad example for protesting forces in other countries of the region.
“It’s a very dangerous way of thinking… and we call for all responsible members of the international community, first and foremost the members of the UN Security Council, to foster immediate dialogue rather than confrontation,” he said.
Now, Moscow views the suggested deployment of European troops in Misrata with suspicion.
“Getting more and more tangled in the Libyan situation, some Western countries start talking about a possible ground operation, which would be presented as safeguarding humanitarian convoys to relieve an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe on Libyan territory,” Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO, believes.
He added that the situation in Libya is at the moment a major point of disagreement for Russia and the alliance.
The NATO-led campaign, intended to prevent the escalation of violence in Libya, has entered its second month, with no clear end in sight. Even with the air support of the coalition, rebel forces are no match for Gaddafi’s army and plea for more air strikes and supply of weapons. The latter would violate the arms embargo imposed against Libya by the UN.
Rebels claim some 10,000 people have already died in the civil war, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Tuesday after meeting with Mustafa Abdul Jalil from the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council.