Russia steps up criticism of NATO Libya campaign

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia stepped up its criticism of the NATO-led air operation in Libya on Friday, calling for increased United Nations and African Union peace-making efforts to stem the violence.

NATO is bombing Libya under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians and says it strikes only military targets. Rebels seeking the end of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule have been fighting his forces since February.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement that Russia believed coalition air strikes were killing civilians and destroying infrastructure.

“It is completely clear that the actions undertaken by the coalition are going far beyond the aims” of a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized military intervention to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians, he said.

Veto-wielding permanent Security Council member Russia abstained from the vote on the resolution, allowing it to pass, but has strongly criticised the Western air campaign and called for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict.

“We think it important to fully activate political, diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the crisis with the help of the peacekeeping potential of the U.N. and African Union,” Lukashevich said separately at a weekly briefing.

Lukashevich also said that Russia is not seeking to be a mediator in Libyan affairs.

Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Steve Gutterman; Editing by Maria Golovnina