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In the News
Last Updated: 03/01/2011
LIBYA: West, U.N. Turn Up Heat on Gaddafi
Aprille Muscara, Inter Press Service

Aprille Muscara of Inter Press Service reports on recent developments in Libya's violent political conflict. Her article details the international community's response to Muammar Gaddafi from Western states and the United Nations, while highlighting the regional impact of 100,000+ Libyan refugees entering Egypt, Tunisia and Niger. The article was originally published at:

International efforts to strangle Muammar Gaddafi's regime are intensifying, as Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, call for the autocrat's immediate departure, while the Pentagon and key allies consider contingency plans for a potential no-fly zone over the North African nation.

The United Nations estimates that between 600 and 2,000 peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders have been killed at the order of Gaddafi's regime since its violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrations began 13 days ago.

"Colonel Gaddafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a meeting of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, of which Libya is a member, on Monday.

"Through their actions, they have lost the legitimacy to govern," she said. "And the people of Libya have made themselves clear: It is time for Gaddafi to go – now, without further violence or delay." Obama said much the same in a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday.

Following a recommendation in a Human Rights Council resolution passed Friday, the U.N. General Assembly in New York is expected to expel Libya from the Council on Tuesday.

And over the weekend, the U.N. Security Council passed a landmark resolution imposing an arms embargo on the oil- producing country and targeted sanctions against key members of the Gaddafi regime – including a travel ban and an assets freeze, which build on similar unilateral measures already underway.

The White House announced Monday that it had seized 30 billion dollars of the regime's assets since Washington enforced its own sanctions on Friday.

The unanimously-passed Security Council resolution also referred the ongoing violence in Libya to the International Criminal Court – the second time the council has referred a case to the ICC since the prosecutorial body was established and the first time it has done so with all 15 members on board.

"It is vital for the international community to speak with one voice and it has done so," Susan Rice, Washington's top diplomat at the U.N., told reporters here Monday. "These sanctions and accountability mechanisms should make all members of the Libyan regime think about the choice they have before them: Violate human rights and be held accountable or stop the violence and respect the Libyan people's call for change. There is no escaping that critical choice."

This ultimatum, and similar statements echoed by other administration officials in recent days, raises the question of potential military action against the Libyan regime and its leader, who U.S. diplomats have described as "mercurial and eccentric" in leaked cables and Rice called "delusional" on Monday.

"As we move forward on these fronts, we will continue to explore all possible options for action," Clinton said at the Human Rights Council. "As we have said, nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan Government continues to threaten and kill Libyans."

As Washington continues its talks with allies, including in the collective security organisation NATO, Rice told reporters that a no-fly zone was one of these options the U.S. is "considering actively and seriously". On Monday, the Pentagon announced that it was moving naval and air forces to the region.

"We have planners working various contingency plans," Defence Department spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters here. "[T]hose forces could be used in any number of ways. Re-positioning them provides that flexibility so they can be used if needed."

In the midst of the bloodshed, observers warn that a humanitarian crisis is developing. According to U.N. figures released Monday, some 61,000 Libyan refugees have fled to Egypt, 40,000 to Tunisia and 1,000 to Niger, with many internally displaced residents unable to leave. The world body has also expressed concern about what it deems to be a dearth of medical supplies and limited food stocks in the country.

"The United Nations has begun to mount a very robust humanitarian response that will include resources to the various concerned agencies like the High Commissioner for Refugees, like the International Organisation for Migration," Rice said. She was in Washington Monday to attend a meeting with Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban will appoint a senior-level official to coordinate the U.N.'s humanitarian and political response in the country, she added. At the same time, Washington has sent assistance teams to the Libyan borders to aid in the relief effort, while USAID, the United States' development agency, has allocated 10 million dollars for humanitarian assistance to Libya, the State Department announced Monday.

Meanwhile, in an interview with U.S.-based ABC, Britain's BBC and the Times of London on Monday, the 68-year-old leader, who has ruled for the past 42 years, denied that his own civilians were protesting against him and blamed the unrest on Al Qaeda.

"When he can laugh when talking to American and international journalists while he is slaughtering his own people, it only underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality," Rice said of Gaddafi's interview, adding: "We're going to continue to keep the pressure on."

Aprille Muscara is a journalist and regular contributor to Inter Press Service. For updates on Libya, you can follow her on twitter at @aprilledaughn.