Coalition seeks to tip scales to help Libyan rebels: diplomat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Western-led coalition launching air strikes on Libya is trying to tip the military scales against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in favor of the rebels, a senior European diplomat said on Wednesday.

The diplomat’s comments were a rare assertion that the aims of the air campaign that began on March 19 go beyond protecting civilians to helping rebel forces in their battle against Gaddafi, who has been in power for 41 years.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the emphasis on the imposing a no-fly zone over Libya was a smoke screen to secure Arab support for the military mission, which has been authorized by the U.N. Security Council.

The Council on March 17 approved “all necessary measures” — code for military action — to protect Libyan civilians despite the concern of some nations such as Russia and China the operation could amount to taking sides in a civil war.

“We are going to tip the balance. That’s exactly what we do,” the diplomat told reporters. “What is happening in Libya is not a no-fly zone … (the) no-fly zone was a diplomatic (thing) to get the Arabs on board. Let’s be clear about it.”

Libyan rebels on Wednesday fled in headlong retreat from the superior arms and tactics of Gaddafi’s troops, exposing the insurgents’ weakness without Western air strikes to support them and suggesting the coalition may need to do more.

Libya is the latest Arab nation this year to witness a popular uprising against an authoritarian leader, following demonstrations that toppled former Tunisia’s Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali in January and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in February.

“What we have in Libya, it’s much more than that. It’s a no-fly zone … but it’s air strikes, it’s an arms embargo, and so on,” the diplomat added, rejecting a comparison to Iraq, where a no-fly zone for more than a decade left Saddam Hussein in power.

“The comparison is not relevant. In Iraq, at that time, you had a no-fly zone — period. That’s why it didn’t work,” he said. “Here you have military air strikes … you have the strongest possible wording of any Security Council resolution backing the use of force.

“It’s totally different … you cannot compare the two.”

The diplomat said the coalition needed to try to “bridge the gap” between U.N. Security Council resolution 1973, which authorized “all necessary means,” to protect civilians in Libya and the ultimate aim of getting Gaddafi out of power.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Editing by Jackie Frank)

Coalition seeks to tip scales to help Libyan rebels: diplomat