Jun 1, 2011 ASDNews by Laurent Thomet AFP
BRUSSELS - NATO agreed Wednesday to extend the military campaign in Libya until late September, keeping up pressure on a defiant Moamer Kadhafi still in power after 10 weeks of air strikes.
Hours after NATO aircraft launched new raids on Tripoli, alliance ambassadors meeting in Brussels decided to renew the mission for another 90 days.
"This decision sends a clear message to the Kadhafi regime. We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
"We will sustain our efforts to fulfil the United Nations mandate" to defend civilians from Kadhafi's forces, he said in a statement.
"We will keep up the pressure to see it through," Rasmussen added after the North Atlantic Council, the decision-making body of the 28-nation alliance, agreed to extend the mission.
The current military expires June 27.
Wednesday's decision will give individual nations time to prepare their contributions for the next 90 days, a NATO diplomat said.
"There were very positive signs that nations will extend with the appropriate number of resources," the diplomat said.
The alliance has intensified its air raids on Tripoli in recent weeks, launching daily strikes on command and control bunkers in the capital to prevent Kadhafi from crushing a revolt that began in mid-February.
The veteran strongman has resisted international pressure to step down, telling South African President Jacob Zuma during a mediation visit Monday that he would not relinquish office and leave his country.
A senior European diplomat warned that a prolonged stalemate raises the risk of the partition of Libya, with Kadhafi entrenched in the west and the rebels controlling the east.
"We are currently in a tie-game situation in Libya and nobody can predict when the NATO operation will end," the diplomat said.
"The mediaton efforts -- President Jacob Zuma's mission for example -- have not brought a breakthrough because Moamer Kadhafi is resisting," he said.
NATO aircraft have conducted more than 9,000 sorties, including some 3,500 aimed at identifying targets or conducting strikes, since March 31, when the alliance took command of a mission initially led by the United States, France and Britain.
Rasmussen said the decision to extend the mission "sends a clear message to the people of Libya: NATO, our partners, the whole international community, stand with you."
"We stand united to make sure that you can shape your own future. And that day is getting closer," he added.
The Libyan government said Tuesday that the air war had cost the lives of 718 civilians and wounded more than 4,000. NATO has repeatedly cast doubt on Libyan claims about civilian casualties.
"We have no indications that that is the case," NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero told AFP, adding that the alliance has no way to verify the claims because it does not have troops on the ground.
"NATO is conducting its operations to implement the UN mandate to protect civilians with great care and precision," she said. "This is in clear contrast with the indiscriminate attacks of the Kadhafi regime on his own people."