Head of Nato dismisses Italy's ceasefire call

NATO's chief has rejected a call from Italy for a suspension of hostilities in Libya and tried to reassure wavering members of the coalition that Muammar al-Gaddafi can be beaten.

Italy's ceasefire call exposed the strain on the alliance, nearly 14 weeks into a bombing campaign that has so far failed to dislodge Col Gaddafi but is causing mounting concerns about its cost and civilian casualties.

Asked about Italy's ceasefire call, Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: "No, on the contrary. We shall continue and see it through to the end.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The allies are committed to making the necessary effort for a sustained operation. We will take the time needed until the military objective is reached: end all attacks against Libyan civilians, return armed forces to barracks and freedom of movement for humanitarian aid."

Nato is operating under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians from Col Gaddafi's forces as he tries to crush an uprising against his 41-year rule.

The leaders of the US, Britain and France have said they will keep up the pressure until Col Gaddafi leaves power, but the rebels opposing him are locked in a protracted stalemate with his troops.

Mr Rasmussen said it was no surprise it was proving tough to break Libya's military and security apparatus. "We knew he had the military means and financial resources. We avoided a massacre and broke his war machine. Nato has damaged or destroyed 2,400 military targets.

"Today we are seeing opposition troops going on the offensive. I am satisfied with the progress."

At the weekend, Nato acknowledged for the first time in the campaign that it may have caused multiple civilian casualties when an air strike hit a house in Tripoli.

That opened up cracks inside the alliance that had already been starting to appear because of the length of time the campaign had been under way without producing a decisive breakthrough. Italy lies directly across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya and Nato relies heavily on its military airfields to launch air operations. But the Italian government is an uneasy participant in the campaign, with some parts of its ruling coalition opposed outright to military intervention.

"The need to look for a ceasefire has become more pressing," Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini told parliament on Wednesday. "As well as the ceasefire, which is the first stage towards a political negotiation, a humanitarian stop to military action is fundamental to allow immediate humanitarian aid."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His comments got short shrift from Nato allies. Both France and Britain - the biggest contributors - rejected anything that would ease the pressure on Col Gaddafi to step down.Time is now a crucial factor for both sides in the conflict, with unity in the Nato-led coalition likely to come under more strain and Col Gaddafi's ability to resist being steadily worn down by sanctions, air strikes and fighting with rebels.

Related topics: