As Libya's conflict deepens, nations weigh long-term options

After another day of clashes between Qaddafi forces and antigovernment rebels, the UN called for an end to the progovernment troops’ “indiscriminate” violence.

Hussein Malla/AP
Libyan anti-government rebels celebrate at a checkpoint in Ras Lanouf, eastern Libya, March 7. Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi launched an airstrike against a rebel position in Ras Lanouf, a key oil port, on Monday but there were no casualties. A day earlier, a heavy assault by pro-regime forces stalled the rebel advance.

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As forces loyal to Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi struck back at rebels on Sunday, the United Nations called for an end to the “indiscriminate” violence being perpetrated by pro-government troops.

Concern is growing about a possible protracted civil war, the Guardian reports. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Abdelilah Al-Khatib, Jordan’s former foreign minister, as his special envoy to Libya and has dispatched a team to Tripoli to investigate the humanitarian situation.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the fighting in western Libya, which is claiming large numbers of lives and threatens even more carnage in the days ahead,” said a statement on the UN website. “He notes that civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence, and calls for an immediate halt to the Government’s disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets.”

In addition to concern for Libyan citizens, the UN has also expressed concern about foreign nationals and other individuals trying to flee the country, reports the Guardian. During the peak of people fleeing, as many as 20,000 people left the country per day. Now that number has dropped to several hundred per day and there are reports of harassment by government forces.

As the UN works to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those in need throughout Libya, Valerie Amos, the UN’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief has requested access to the city of Misratah after it was reportedly retaken by government forces. It is the third largest city in Libya, reports Xinhua.

“Humanitarian organizations need urgent access now. People are injured and dying and need help immediately,” said Ms. Amos. “I call on the authorities to provide access without delay to allow aid workers to help save lives.”

The UN’s efforts come amid calls from prominent Republicans in US to increase American assistance to rebel forces. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said the US should provide humanitarian assistance, in addition to potentially “providing technical assistance, intelligence and training; and by declaring support for a provisional government,” reports the Wall Street Journal. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky has suggested that providing insurgents with munitions could also be an option.

But the Obama administration is hesitant to provide support to antigovernment forces who presently lack clear leadership and may not prove to be trustworthy allies in the long run. The Washington Post reports that the White House is considering a variety of options, including humanitarian support and different levels of military intervention, but it also recognizes that there may be no immediate end to the violence.

The US may also have difficulty getting international support for any kind of intervention. Russia, China, and Brazil have said they would not support a UN-backed military intervention and the Arab League is also strongly opposed to any Western-backed military interventions. It has floated the idea of taking action in conjunction with the African Union.

Western powers are likely to be especially cautious with any military interventions after a botched British mission resulted in the detention of six soldiers believed to be part of the elite British Special Air Services unit. The team, which was likely accompanying a British diplomat trying to make contact with opposition leaders, has since been released.

The BBC’s Jon Leyne called the operation a “embarrassing miscalculation" and said that Britain was "obviously unaware of the reaction likely to be provoked in this tense situation by a group of armed men arriving on a helicopter, in the dead of night."

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