In Libya, Attacks And Counterattacks As International Responses Sharpen

March 03, 2011

Muammar Qaddafi's Libyan Army is facing an increasingly organized and confident rebel force after a government offensive launched on March 2 failed to win back control of the eastern city of Brega from antigovernment fighters.
But the latest reports from eastern Libya say forces loyal to Qaddafi have launched another counterattack on the outskirts of Brega -- an attack that included fresh air strikes on Brega's airport and the nearby town of Dabiya.
The violence comes ahead of an announcement by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on his intentions to prosecute members of Qaddafi's regime for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the violent crackdown.
Government troops, supported with air strikes by Libya's Air Force, briefly recaptured on March 2 the key oil export terminal at Brega, about 800 kilometers east of Tripoli. Opposition forces later took back the town and vowed to move west toward the capital, Tripoli, if Qaddafi refused to step down from power.
Military specialists say they doubt opposition forces have the offensive military capabilities needed to displace Qaddafi loyalists who remain in control of Tripoli. They warn that the inability of either side to achieve a clear victory suggests Libya is sliding into what could be a long and protracted civil war.
Libya's uprising is the bloodiest yet against long-serving rulers in the Middle East and North Africa. UN officials warn that the violent crackdown by government troops already has caused a humanitarian crisis -- especially on the Tunisian border where tens of thousands of foreign workers are trying to flee to safety.
With the struggle intensifying, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa said a peace plan proposed by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez was being considered.
Al-Jazeera television reports that Qaddafi and Musa had agreed to Chavez's plan -- which would involve a commission from Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East trying to mediate a negotiated outcome.
But correspondents in eastern Libya report that antigovernment leaders are refusing to start negotiations on any issue other than an exit plan for Qaddafi's regime.
Punishing 'Atrocities'
With international pressure increasing on Qaddafi's regime, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said 10 to 15 high-ranking members of Qaddafi's regime would be investigated for crimes against humanity.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo made the remark in an interview published by Spain's "El Pais" newspaper. He estimated the number of those killed in the crackdown at between 600 and several thousand.
Moreno-Ocampo was expected to name specific Libyan officials to be targeted in the investigation.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States would help in that investigation.
"Related to the move by the United Nations to refer what's happening in Libya to the ICC, we are closely using all of our resources to monitor what is happening in Libya to make sure that perpetrators of human rights abuses and atrocities against peaceful civilians are held accountable for their actions," Carney said.
No-Go On No-Fly?
But Washington appears to be backing away from calls for a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Qaddafi's air force from launching air strikes against civilians.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a congressional hearing in Washington on March 2 that imposing a no-fly zone would be a complicated military campaign requiring more aircraft than one U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is able to launch.
"Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses," Gates said. "That's the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down."
Qaddafi launched into a tirade on Libyan state television on March 2 against the uprising, alleging that the antigovernment opposition was inspired by Al-Qaeda terrorists. Qaddafi also said the unrest was part of a conspiracy by Western countries to colonize Libya and seize its oil.
Qaddafi said that if the United States or NATO forces enter the conflict, "thousands and thousands of Libyans will die" and "another Vietnam will begin."
based on agency reports