Africa

Libya: US urges tough United Nations resolution

Pro-Gaddafi forces west of Ajdabiya, 16 March
Image caption Pro-Gaddafi forces have been gaining ground eastwards along the coast

The US has said the UN should consider more than just a no-fly zone over Libya, amid Security Council division on a draft resolution.

US ambassador Susan Rice said a no-fly zone would only bring limited help. She hoped for an early vote on a draft.

Russia expressed concern at some of the implications of the proposals and put forward a counter-resolution.

Forces loyal to Col Gaddafi are taking ground from rebels, who say they fear "genocide" without swift UN action.

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross withdrew from the rebel-held city of Benghazi, in eastern Libya, saying it feared an imminent attack by Col Gaddafi's forces.

Government forces say they have captured Ajdabiya, the last town before Benghazi, but the rebels deny this.

'Over in 48 hours'

The UN Security Council on Wednesday undertook lengthy and difficult negotiations over a resolution aimed at authorising a no-fly zone.

The US has previously been cool on the effectiveness of such a zone, but Ms Rice said further measures were now needed.

"The US view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone, at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk."

The BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN says the draft resolution contains controversial language authorising all necessary measures to protect civilians, which some interpret as permitting strikes against government ground forces if civilians are under attack.

She says that may have been what Russia's ambassador was referring to when he angrily declared that some members had introduced proposals with far-reaching implications.

Russia has strong reservations about military action, as does China, and instead offered a counter resolution calling first for a ceasefire.

Western diplomats said it was rejected because it lacked teeth.

Supporters of the draft resolution stressed the urgency of action and are pushing for a vote on Thursday.

Ms Rice said: "We will continue our negotiations early on Thursday, fully focused on the urgency and the gravity of the situation on the ground and it's my hope that we may be in a position to vote a serious resolution as early as Thursday. We're working very hard toward that end."

Pro-Gaddafi troops have been moving closer to Benghazi in recent days.

One of Col Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam, has claimed Benghazi will be recaptured soon even if a no-fly zone is imposed.

"Everything will be over in 48 hours," he told Euronews.

Reports say Gaddafi forces have taken up positions outside Ajdabiya, only 160km (100 miles) from the rebel stronghold.

'Sterilised'

Tanks, artillery and warplanes have been bombarding Ajdabiya, but there are conflicting reports on whether it has fallen to the government troops.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Benghazi says the situation there is getting more tense by the hour, and the calls for the international community to impose a no-fly zone more desperate.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe BBC's Ian Pannell set out from the opposition stronghold of Benghazi to try to reach Ajdabiya, where both sides claim to be winning

Jalal al-Gallal of the rebels' Transitional National Council in the city said there would be a "massacre" if they did not intervene.

"He [Gaddafi] will kill civilians, he will kill dreams, he will destroy us," he told the BBC. "It will be on the international community's conscience."

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's ambassador to the UN who has defected from the Gaddafi regime, also warned the situation could escalate quickly.

"In the coming hours we will see a real genocide if the international community does not act quickly," he said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, state TV warned residents of Benghazi that they had until midnight (2200 GMT) to abandon rebel locations and arms storage areas, Reuters reports.

Col Gaddafi told Lebanese TV that he did not expect there to be a battle in the city, saying the Libyan people had been helping to oust al-Qaeda elements.

"All the places where they [rebels] are fortified, are now being sterilised with the help of the people... who say where their locations are," Reuters quoted him as telling LBC TV.

Col Gaddafi has long maintained that the militant group is behind the unrest in Libya.

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