Amid uncertainty, allies prepare for no-fly zone in Libya

Rebel supporters cheer during a rally Friday in Tobruk, Libya, after the United Nations approved a no-fly zone over the country. Reports indicated talk of a cease-fire was false.

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Rebel supporters cheer during a rally Friday in Tobruk, Libya, after the United Nations approved a no-fly zone over the country. Reports indicated talk of a cease-fire was false.

TRIPOLI, Libya — Trying to outmaneuver Western military intervention, Moammar Gadhafi's government declared a cease-fire on Friday against the rebel uprising faltering against his artillery, tanks and warplanes. The opposition said shells rained down well after the announcement and accused the Libyan leader of lying.

Wary of the cease-fire, Britain and France took the lead in plans to enforce a no-fly zone, sending British warplanes to the Mediterranean and announcing a crisis summit in Paris with the U.N. and Arab allies. In Washington, President Barack Obama ruled out the use of American ground troops but warned that the United States, which has an array of naval and air forces in the region, would join in military action.

There should be no doubt about the Libyan leader's intentions "because he has made them clear," Obama said. "Just yesterday, speaking of the city of Benghazi, a city of roughly 700,000, he threatened 'we will have no mercy and no pity.' No mercy on his own citizens."

In a joint statement to Gadhafi late Friday, the United States, Britain and France — backed by unspecified Arab countries — said a cease-fire must begin "immediately" in Libya, the French presidential palace said.

The statement called on Gadhafi to end his troops' advance toward Benghazi, the rebel headquarters, and pull them out of the cities of Misrata, Ajdabiya and Zawiya, and called for the restoration of water, electricity and gas services in all areas. It said Libyans must be able to receive humanitarian aid or the "international community will make him suffer the consequences" with military action.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States must see "action on the ground," not just words, on a cease-fire.

Britain, France and NATO held emergency meetings Friday on using military force to enforce the no-fly zone, which was approved by the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO was "completing its planning to be ready to take appropriate action in support of the U.N. resolution as part of the broad international effort."

Officials announced that the leaders of Britain, France and Germany and the chiefs of the United Nations and Arab League would join other world leaders for an emergency summit on Libya in Paris today.

Meanwhile, Misrata, Libya's third-largest city and the last held by rebels in the west, came under sustained assault well after the cease-fire announcement, according to rebels there.

Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, denied government forces had violated the cease-fire and invited four nations to send observers to monitor compliance: Germany, China, Turkey and Malta. He said that military forces were positioned outside Benghazi but that the government had no intention of sending them into the city.

But Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Gadhafi is violating the U.N. resolution.

She told CNN the resolution demanded an immediate cease-fire and end to all offensive operations

"The U.S. is ready to act, along with partners from the League of Arab States and Europe," she said. "Gadhafi should be under no illusions that if he doesn't act immediately he'll face swift and sure consequences, including military action."

Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebels who still hold eastern Libya, said the opposition is considering calling Gadhafi's bluff by holding new protests in Tripoli and elsewhere in Gadhafi's western strongholds to see if his forces open fire.

"The idea is that when he cannot bomb civilians, the whole world will see that Libya does not want him," Gheriani said. "I believe his troops in Tripoli will leave him. We want to make our revolution a peaceful one again, just surround his compound and make him leave."

Gheriani and Khaled Sayh, another rebel spokesman, said shelling continued late Friday in Zintan, a western mountain town; Misrata; and Ajdabiya, an eastern city that has been surrounded by government forces.

But even in advanced militaries, orders can take time to make it through the ranks, and it wasn't clear if all of Gadhafi's front-line troops had received the cease-fire directive by late Friday.

Reporters located

Four New York Times journalists missing in Libya have been located and will be freed by military forces, the newspaper reported Friday, apparently ending a drama that underscored the perils of reporting amid the tumult in the Middle East. The journalists — two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid, photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, and reporter and videographer Stephen Farrell — had been missing since Tuesday. The New York Times reported Friday that the four were captured by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi after entering rebel-controlled eastern Libya without visas, a common practice among Western journalists covering the ongoing insurrection.

Washington Post

Amid uncertainty, allies prepare for no-fly zone in Libya 03/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 18, 2011 11:53pm]

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