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U.N. council approves no-fly zone over Libya

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council voted on Thursday to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” -- code for military action -- to protect civilians against leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

Ten of the council’s 15 member states voted in favor of the resolution, with Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstaining. The resolution was co-sponsored by France, Britain, Lebanon and, in a recent move, by the United States.

The adoption of the resolution after days of closed-door negotiations could lead to a dramatic escalation of international involvement in a conflict that erupted last month between Gaddafi loyalists and rebels trying to topple him.

A French diplomatic source said in Paris ahead of the vote that any military action could involve France, Britain, possibly the United States and one or more Arab states. The Arab League had requested that the no-fly zone be imposed.

The resolution clears the way for enforcement potentially to begin immediately and the French source said it could start within several hours. A U.S. military official, however, said no immediate U.S. action was expected following the vote.

Anti-Gaddafi protesters in Benghazi cheered and set off fireworks to celebrate the vote, Al Jazeera television showed.

Libya’s defense minister warned any attack on his country would endanger air and sea traffic in the Mediterranean, while a spokesman for Gaddafi’s government said any U.N.-approved action “would be illegal and immoral.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the adoption of the resolution and translated its message into clear terms for Gaddafi and his government.

“The Security Council has authorized the use of force, including enforcement of a no-fly zone, to protect civilians ... targeted by Colonel Gaddafi, his intelligence and security forces, and his mercenaries,” Rice said.

United Nations Security Council diplomats vote on a resolution during a meeting on Libya at U.N. headquarters in New York February 26, 2011. REUTERS/ Joshua Lott

France, which drafted the final version of the resolution, had pressed the council to act fast, saying it could otherwise be too late to stop Gaddafi from crushing his opponents.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who flew to New York to be present for the vote, told reporters “France is ready, with others, to put the Security Council resolution into effect,” suggesting this could include air strikes.


Libyan deputy U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, whose denunciation of Gaddafi last month inspired dozens of similar defections by Libyan diplomats worldwide, welcomed the vote.

“It is a clear to the Libyan people that they are not alone,” he told reporters.

“It is also a clear message to Colonel Gaddafi and those who are supporting him that there is no place for dictatorship, ... there is no place for atrocities, for mass killing.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the resolution, his press office said in a statement.

But German Ambassador Peter Wittig, explaining his country’s abstention, warned of a possible protracted military conflict affecting the wider region. “We should not enter a military confrontation on the optimistic assumption that quick results with few casualties will be achieved,” he said.

The Russian and Chinese envoys said the resolution’s backers had failed to answer questions about how the no-fly zone would work and what the rules of engagement would be.

Apart from the military measures, the resolution also expands sanctions against Gaddafi and his inner circle imposed in a February 26 Security Council resolution.

Among those whose assets the resolution orders frozen are the Libyan National Oil Corp. and the central bank, which the resolution said were “under control of (Gaddafi) and his family” and a “potential source of funding for his regime.”

The resolution bans all flights over Libya except for humanitarian flights.

It allows states that have notified the United Nations and Arab League “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in (Libya), while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

The French-led rush to get a no-fly zone authorized at the United Nations came as Libyan troops advanced toward the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi and launched air raids on its outskirts.

The council imposed a no-fly zone over Bosnia in the 1990s, although some analysts say it failed to stop massacres like the 1995 slaughter of more than 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica.

The United States originally reacted cautiously to calls for a no-fly zone over Libya, with some officials concerned it could be ineffective or politically damaging.

But in a sharp shift in tone, Washington this week began urging the United Nations to authorize not just a no-fly zone to aid Libyan rebels but also air strikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery, U.S. officials said.

U.N. diplomats said they understood the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were among Arab League members prepared to take part in enforcing the no-fly zone. (Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London, John Irish in Paris and Missy Ryan in Washington; Editing by Todd Eastham)