Allies wary of Libya truce offer

Western powers vow action after UN authorises no-fly zone and use of force

A Libyan woman holding a knife celebrates the United Nations Security Council’s resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya in Benghazi on Thursday. AFP

The announcement came from Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa after Western powers said they were preparing imminent airstrikes to prevent Libyan forces from launching a threatened final assault on the rebels’ eastern stronghold in Benghazi.

It was unclear what effect a cease-fire, if honoured, might have, but the offer drew some skepticism in the west. A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said London would judge Gadhafi “by his actions, not his words.”

The official, who spoke in return for anonymity under departmental rules, said there was no change in Britain’s military preparations. French officials also expressed caution.

Apparently pulling back from the increasingly bellicose statements as recently as on Thursday from Gadhafi and his son Seif al-Islam, Koussa—his hands shaking as he read a prepared statement at a press conference on Friday afternoon—said that the Gadhafi government would comply with the United Nations resolution by halting combat operations.

“Libya has decided an immediate cease-fire and the stoppage of all military operations,” he said. He did not take questions.

It was not immediately possible to confirm that military action had ceased either on the eastern front or around the besieged rebel-held city of Misurata in the west. Koussa did not say whether the Libyan government intends to restore water, electricity and telecommunications to Misurata.

Koussa said he expressed “our sadness” that the imposition of a no-fly zone would also stop commercial and civilian aircraft, saying such measures “will have a negative impact on the general life of the Libyan people.”

Fact-finding mission

And he called it “strange and unreasonable” that the resolution authorised the use of force against the Gadhafi government “and there are signs that this may indeed take place.” Koussa called the resolution a violation of Libyan sovereignty as well as of the United Nations charter, and repeated a call for a “fact-finding mission” to evaluate the situation on the ground.

Shortly before Koussa spoke in Tripoli, Cameron told Parliament in London that Britain, a leading backer of the no-flight resolution, had begun the preparations to deploy Tornado and Typhoon warplanes along with aerial refuelling and surveillance aircraft. He said the planes would move “in the coming hours” to bases where they could start implementing the no-flight zone.

“This is about protecting the Libyan people and saving lives,” the prime minister said. “The world has watched Gadhafi brutally crushing his own people. We expect brutal attacks. Gadhafi is preparing for a violent assault on Benghazi.”

“Any decision to put the men and women of our armed forces into harm’s way should only be taken when absolutely necessary,” he said.

“But I believe that we cannot stand back and let a dictator whose people have rejected him kill his people indiscriminately. To do so would send a chilling signal to others.”

“The clock is now ticking,” Cameron said. “We need a sense of urgency because we don’t want to see a bloodbath in Benghazi.” Responding to criticism from parliamentarians for Britain militarily, Cameron retorted: “To pass a resolution like this and then just stand back and hope someone in the region would enforce it is wrong," he said.

Cameron will attend a meeting in Paris on Saturday with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Arab leaders, but he indicated that a statement would be issued before then “to tell Gadhafi what is expected.”

Before the cease-fire announcement, the Libyan leader had already signalled his intentions in Benghazi.

“We will come house by house, room by room. It’s over. The issue has been decided,” Colonel Gadhafi said on Thursday on a radio call-in show before the United Nations vote. To those who continued to resist, he vowed: “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.”

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