March 18, 2011 / 7:39 PM / 8 years ago

France keeps pressure on Libya despite ceasefire

PARIS (Reuters) - France kept up the pressure on Muammar Gaddafi on Friday, saying it was ready to launch military intervention despite the Libyan leader’s government declaring a ceasefire in its attacks on rebel forces.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government said it will host talks on Saturday between the European Council president, Arab League officials and senior representatives of all states wanting to support a U.N.-mandated intervention in Libya.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told Reuters television after meeting the prime minister and members of parliament that everything was ready for strikes but declined to give details.

“We are ready but I cannot give you more precise details of the calendar at this stage,” he said.

Juppe said that the international community would consider the ceasefire declaration during the Paris talks on Saturday and that the Libyan government had to comply with the conditions of the (U.N.) Security Council resolutions.

“We have to analyze the conditions of the ceasefire,” Juppe said. “It has to be on all of the territory of Libya and not only Benghazi.”

Witnesses told Reuters that Gaddafi’s forces shelled the rebel-held city of Misrata with tanks and heavy artillery on Friday, several hours after Tripoli announced the ceasefire.

“We have to be very cautious. He (Gaddafi) is now starting to be afraid, but on the ground the threat has not changed,” Valero told Reuters television.

An Arab League official in Paris said the organization’s president Amr Moussa would attend Saturday’s meeting, which will focus on coordination and implementation of the U.N. resolution.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” said the official after Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa promised a stop to all military operations.

Before Tripoli’s announcement, French officials had said military operations could be launched against Libya in a matter of hours following the U.N. Security Council resolution late on Thursday authorizing a no-fly zone and other measures, which could include military strikes, to protect civilians in Libya.

A French diplomatic source said French and British planes could be sent to fly over Libya before the Saturday Paris talks as a warning to the Gaddafi government.

“The idea is not to strike Libya, but to send a political message,” the source said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon are among those who have confirmed they will attend.

Sarkozy also discussed Libya at his Elysee Palace with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar, which has said it could take part in an operation.

RAPID STRIKES

The attacks are likely to include fighter jets, bombers, airborne refueling planes and radar planes, a French official told Reuters, declining to be identified.

“The fighter jets could hit Libya directly from France, Britain or Italy and be refueled in the air,” he said. “Another option on the table could be to use missiles from ships in the Mediterranean.”

Naval sources said France’s only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, was currently docked in the southern port of Toulon equipped with a submarine, half a dozen boats and a dozen fighter jets.

“We’re in a ramp-up phase,” one source said, adding that the Charles de Gaulle could be ready to leave Toulon on Sunday night.

Diplomatic sources say France and Britain are likely to lead the intervention with possible input from the United States and from Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Saturday’s meeting is scheduled to start with a working lunch and wrap up with a mid-afternoon announcement to the media by Sarkozy.

Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Lucien Libert, Patrick Vignal, Emile Picy, Catherine Bremer, Thierry Leveque and Leigh Thomas; Editing by Louise Ireland

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