UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday canceled its authorization for a seven-month-old NATO military operation in Libya that led to the ouster and death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The mandate was terminated despite a request from Libya’s interim government for the Security Council to wait until the National Transitional Council made a decision on whether it wants NATO to help it secure its borders.
The 15-nation council unanimously approved a resolution terminating the U.N. mandate, which set the no-fly zone over Libya and permitted foreign military forces, including NATO, to use “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians.
The resolution said the U.N. authorization for foreign military operations in Libya will lapse at 11:59 p.m. local Libyan time on October 31.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice welcomed the decision of the council, which U.N. diplomats say became sharply divided over NATO intervention in a civil war that went on much longer than Western nations had expected or wanted.
“This closes what I think history will judge to be a proud chapter in the Security Council’s history and experience, where it acted promptly and effectively to prevent mass slaughter in Benghazi and other parts of the east to effectively protect civilians,” Rice told reporters.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement that the council move “is another significant milestone toward a peaceful, democratic future for Libya.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the alliance will end its combat mission on Monday, adding that he did not expect NATO to play a major role in post-war Libya.
“If requested we can assist the new Libyan government in the transformation to democracy, for instance with defense and security sector reform, but I wouldn’t expect new tasks beyond that,” he said.
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Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who had repeatedly accused NATO of overstepping its U.N. mandate to protect civilians, also welcomed the move to end foreign military intervention in Libya. Moscow co-sponsored the resolution.
Rice urged Libya’s transitional government to “make the maximum effort to swiftly form an inclusive government that incorporates all aspects of Libyan society in which the rights of all Libyan people are fully and thoroughly respected.”
While the resolution does not specifically refer to NATO, the alliance’s legal mandate to carry out the air strikes that enabled rebel forces to defeat Gaddafi’s troops was supplied by Security Council resolution 1973, adopted in March.
The NTC officially announced Libya’s liberation on October 23, days after the capture and death of Gaddafi.
Libyan Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi asked the council on Wednesday to wait before terminating the mandate. He said the government needed time to assess the security situation in its country and its ability to monitor its borders.
Western diplomats said council members did not want to wait. While NATO will terminate its military operations to protect civilians on Monday, a NATO official in Brussels said member states of the alliance were free to give further security aid to Libya individually.
The resolution does not lift the arms embargo or other U.N. sanctions on Libya that have been in place for half a year. The resolution approved on Thursday made clear that weapons were a problem, voicing “concern at the proliferation of arms in Libya and its potential impact on regional peace and security.”
The Security Council on March 17 authorized a no-fly zone and foreign military intervention to protect Libyans from security forces Gaddafi had deployed to suppress pro-democracy uprisings across the country.
Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels and Alexandra Hudson in Berlin; Editing by Paul Simao