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No Decision Yet from UN Security Council on Libya No-Fly Zone

  • Margaret Besheer

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Security Council (File Photo)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Security Council (File Photo)

Negotiations among members of the U.N. Security Council ended Wednesday without consensus on a draft resolution authorizing a No-Fly Zone over Libya, where forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi are bearing down on rebel strongholds in the eastern part of the country. Russia pushed for a separate cease-fire resolution, while the United States said the council might need to consider measures that go beyond a No-Fly Zone.

After the day-long consultations, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters that Washington wants a broad range of actions that will effectively protect civilians and increase the pressure on the Gadhafi regime to stop the killing and allow the Libyan people to express themselves freely and peacefully, but she did not detail what those measures might be.

"We are discussing very seriously and leading efforts in the Council around a range of actions that we believe could be effective in protecting civilians -- those include discussion of a No-Fly Zone. But the U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a No-Fly Zone. At this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a No-Fly Zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk," she said.

The request for the No-Fly Zone came from the Arab League, and Ambassador Rice said Arab leadership and participation in a possible No-Fly Zone would be very important.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin expressed his regret that council members did not embrace a Russian proposal to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. Earlier Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made his own appeal for a cease-fire. Ambassador Churkin said Mr. Ban’s call coupled with one from the Council might have served to halt the bloodshed.

"Our idea was to do this brief cease-fire resolution and then continue working as fast as we can. We were not rejecting at all -- we were not rejecting at all -- this larger resolution. We participated in the discussion and prepared to consider it. But our idea was that a strong signal from the Security Council might be useful today," Churkin said.

But some Western diplomats said they rejected the Russian proposal because it "had no teeth" and would not have been stronger than resolution 1970, which the council adopted two weeks ago. That resolution imposed financial and travel sanctions on the Gadhafi government, as well as an arms embargo and a referral to the International Criminal Court.

As the negotiations continued in New York, the situation appeared to grow more dire for the opposition in Libya, after Moammar Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, said in a television interview that government forces are closing in on them and would soon take the rebel city of Benghazi. He urged the rebels to leave the country.

Libya’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador, who is allied with the opposition National Transitional Council, told reporters that mercenaries working for Colonel Gadhafi are moving in a column of more than 400 vehicles toward the city of Ajdabiya with instructions to kill everyone and destroy every building. Ibrahim Dabbashi warned that Colonel Gadafi had also gathered forces in the country’s western mountains and planned to move on Berber villages there, which he said would be tantamount to ethnic cleansing.

Despite the military escalation Dabbashi said the rebels could hold off the Gadhafi forces and protect their eastern stronghold of Benghazi, but he nevertheless urged the council to adopt a resolution quickly.

Council diplomats said they believe the No-Fly Zone resolution will come to a vote on Thursday.