Libyan rebels: foreign soldiers could protect civilians

Libyan rebels: foreign soldiers could protect civilians

Libyan rebels would not object to the deployment of foreign troops to protect civilians in the besieged western city of Misurata, a leading member of the rebel council said Wednesday, dpa reported.

"If it's necessary to get humanitarian aid or create safe zones for civilians, that (deployment of foreign soldiers) would be covered by UN resolution 1973)," Abdul Hafiz Ghoga of the rebels Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) said.

But the rebels did not want foreign soldiers fighting on the frontline against Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi's forces, he said in the eastern city of Benghazi.

His comments came as France and Italy both announced Wednesday they would send military experts to assist rebels in the east, a day after the British government said it would do so.

"Italy and Britain know very well that the rebels need to be trained. They are youths willing to fight for their cause but they don't have the necessary skills," Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said, following discussions with his British counterpart.

It has not been announced how many experts from each country will be sent or for what purposes exactly, but France said that no more than 10 of its soldiers are expected to be in eastern Libya.

With no foreign boots officially on the ground yet, Western-led coalition strikes have hit at Moamer Gaddafi's forces for weeks, with NATO now leading command of the UN accepted no-fly zone over Libya.

But some Western officials have questioned the legality of sending foreign troops into Libya. French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said a recent joint declaration by the leaders of the United States, Britain and France that Gaddafi "must go" was "certainly" overstepping the UN mandate on Libya.

Russia has also urged Western nations to follow a "stringent and responsible" implementation of the mandate granted by the UN Security Council resolution.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi told the BBC Wednesday that "any military presence is a step backwards."

Al-Obeidi proposed that there should be a ceasefire followed by an interim period of six months to prepare for an election which would be supervised by the United Nations, as proposed by the African Union (AU) roadmap. At that point anything could be on the table, including, he implied, the future of Gaddafi as leader.

Despite Tripoli's acceptance of an AU proposed ceasefire, many Libyans who continue to live in fear of Gaddafi's forces want him gone, even if it means a limited presence of foreign troops in Libya.

"The last thing we want is another Bosnia or Iraq so we would need definite assurances that they wouldn't stay on beyond their mandate," said Naji al-Faituri, Benghazi resident who works with charity organisations there.

Al-Faituri believes that the foreign troops' motives are not only humanitarian, or else "they would have interfered in so many other crises around the world," he said.

Under the guise of humanitarian aid, Qatar sent weapons to the rebels, according to a Libya state TV report aired Tuesday night.

A video was aired of what appeared to be aid cargo from the International Committee of the Red Crescent, but a military source said that, when the crates were opened, inside were weapons and ammunition sent from Qatar.

The military source said "Qatar does not send medical equipment, but uses the logos of international organizations to send rockets, weapons and ammunition, using the cover of the International Red Cross to kill the sons of the Libyan people and sow discord among them."

Qatar, which has supplied fighter jets to the Western-led coalition carrying out a UN approved no-fly zone, was the first Arab country to recognize Libyan rebels as the sole legitimate representatives of the North African country.

A resident in the easternmost Libyan city, Tobruk, told dpa that he saw 35 Qatari military officers in eastern Libya last week. That same day officials in Tripoli had said Qatar was aiding rebels with French-made anti-tank missiles.

"Nobody wants it to become like Iraq, with foreign troops who never left, but we definitely need their help now. The important thing should be that they don't stay long," said 18-year-old Hesham al-Kish, a youth in the revolutionary coalition in eastern Libya.

"The shabaab (youth) are coming round to the idea that we should have foreign troops," he told dpa.

Meanwhile, Libyan state television reported Wednesday that NATO had launched three airstrikes on Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte.

The NATO attack on Sirte, some 450 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, targeted military communication towers and mobile phone towers, according to Libyan media reports.

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