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Tue Sep 02 01:35:42 SAST 2014

Will West have to turn its guns on the Libyan rebels?

The Editor, The Times Newspaper | 28 March, 2011 21:420 Comments
Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. File picture.
Image by: MARCO LONGARI

The Times Editorial: The rapid advance of rebel forces in Libya - reports yesterday said the rag-tag army was marching towards Muammar Gaddafi's birthplace, Sirte - poses a major dilemma for the international community.

Aided by days of relentless aerial bombardment by Western powers of Gaddafi loyalist positions, the rebels have pushed forward along the coast from their Benghazi stronghold in the east and are now halfway to the capital, Tripoli.

Analysts agree that, if the heavily defended Sirte falls to the rebels - essentially a poorly trained volunteer militia who took up arms six weeks ago against Gaddafi's 41-year rule - then the way will be open for an advance on Tripoli itself.

Herein lies the problem. The Western-led air strikes, now being co-ordinated by Nato after the US insisted that it would not take the leading role, were authorised by the UN Security Council, which said that "all necessary measures" should be taken to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces. A bloodbath was almost certainly avoided: at the time, the colonel's loyalists were poised to lay siege to Benghazi, a city of about 700000 people.

If the rebels manage to continue their march westwards it is quite possible that they will be in a position to lay siege to the capital and its approximately 1.1million inhabitants.

It's a no-brainer that, if the rebels are not persuaded to halt their advance soon, Western powers, already accused by the Russians of siding with the insurgents, will have to target the anti-Gaddafi forces to save the lives of Tripoli's people.

It is vital that decisive action be taken on the diplomatic front to pave the way for an early ceasefire, possibly including some sort of exit strategy for Gaddafi and his acolytes.

Much rides on today's 35-nation meeting in London on the Libya crisis.

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Will West have to turn its guns on the Libyan rebels?

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