EU slams France's 'crazy move' on Libya, seeks one voice

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Author: RAF CASERT and DON MELVIN | AP

Friday 11 March 2011

BRUSSELS: French President Nicolas Sarkozy remained unrepentant Friday in the face of a backlash from leaders angry at his diplomatic recognition of Libya’s opposition council, arguing that working with the rebels was urgent to avoid turning Libya into a failed state.

“Democracy is a right for all people,” Sarkozy said. He urged the EU to recognize the opposition “because nothing would be worse than to see a country in a situation like Somalia, without leaders and representatives.” Sarkozy’s promise to exchange ambassadors with the council came the day before Friday’s European Union summit and caught many leaders off guard, in part because of the flamboyant Frenchman’s timing and lack of consultation.
EU leaders say no options are off the table at the summit, but previous economic sanctions have done little to stop Muammar Qaddafi’s bloody crackdown on his people and a no-fly zone appears increasingly unlikely. And they did not rule out talking with the opposition council, which a number of them have already done.
British Prime Minister David Cameron urged in a letter with Sarkozy that the EU consider the council an “important voice for the Libyan people.” But many EU member states insisted that only nations, not political groups, should be given diplomatic recognition and urged caution during a time of continued fighting and conflicting information.
 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose relationship with Sarkozy is sometimes prickly, said the European Union needed to send a united signal, “since ‘divide and rule’ would only play into the hands of Qaddafi.” The council France recognized is an umbrella group of Libyan rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi, which was taken over in a deadly uprising that has spread throughout much of the oil-rich North African country.
“I find it a crazy move by France,” Dutch Premier Mark Rutte said as he arrived for the meeting in Brussels. “To jump ahead and say ‘I will recognize a transitional government,’ in the face of any diplomatic practice, is not the solution for Libya,” he said.
European Union leaders, however, remained united in their primary goal — to pressure the regime of Qaddafi, isolate him, and force him from power. Cameron said European countries should show will and ambition, and would emerge from Friday’s meeting with measures that would increase Qaddafi’s isolation.
“It’s a moment for Europe to say what we’ve done in the past hasn’t always worked. And we should be reaching out to these countries, offering them a new partnership, opening up our markets and welcoming their approach of greater democracy, greater freedom, greater human rights,” Cameron said. “This is potentially a good moment for our world and we should grab it and seize it and try and shape it.” The prospect of the quick imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to protect the civilian population from the Qaddafi regime’s fighter jets appeared to be fading, with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere insisting that the Arab League must first make clear what it wants. The Arab League meets on Libya in Cairo on Saturday.
Sarkozy said France had always been reserved about the possibility of military action. And Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme urged prudence, saying any military action could take place only if it were sanctioned by the United Nations and had the full backing of the region.
NATO, the north Atlantic military alliance, urged caution, as well.
“The situation right now in Libya does not justify a military intervention by NATO,” De Maiziere said at a NATO meeting also being held in Brussels.
In Athens, meanwhile, three Dutch marines who were captured after a botched evacuation mission in Libya last month arrived on board a Greek military transport plane after their release.
The Dutch troops and their helicopter were seized Feb. 27 by armed forces loyal to Qaddafi after landing near Sirte, Libya, to help evacuate people from the country as the rebellion gained steam.
UN officials in Geneva say they are getting reports that child soldiers are being recruited to fight for Muammar Qaddafi loyalists in Libya — which would be a war crime.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told The Associated Press on Friday there is “a serious concern” that child soldiers are among the mercenaries that Qaddafi is hiring to attack rebel forces.

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