|Africa News Digest
Libya: Brit/NATO Escalation Prompts Russian Opprobrium
June 5 (EIRNS)British and French forces, operating under NATO cover, pounded Tripoli today, the day after British Foreign Secretary William Hague went to Benghazi to talk to rebel leaders. Hague admitted today on BBC television that the NATO operation was "intensifying."
This new phase of the anti-Qaddafi operation following Hague's visit has alarmed the Russians, who wanted to work out a negotiated settlement. The escalation has been termed "deplorable" by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: "We consider that what is going on is either consciously or unconsciously sliding towards a land operation. That would be very deplorable." Lavrov was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency, as he referred to the French and British decision to deploy military helicopters.
Today his concern was reiterated by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who indicated that NATO's use of helicopters was not an acceptable way to impose the no-fly zone that the UN resolution had approved. NATO is "using attack helicopters on land targets, which is in my view the last but one step before the land operation," Ivanov told a military forum in Singapore.
Britain and France's deployment of attack helicopters against Qaddafi's forces for the first time, was a slap in the face to Russia, which wants a negotiated settlement.
The British are making it clear to any political forces interested in a negotiated settlement that they are the ones who are calling the shots, by giving details today about their role in today's escalated attacks on Tripoli:
"At sea, HMS Ocean launched her British Army Apaches against a multiple rocket launch system positioned on the Libyan coast near Brega," a statement by Chief of Defence Staff spokesman Maj. Gen. Nick Pope said. "The attack helicopters used Hellfire missiles to destroy their target before returning safely to the ship." He added that British Tornado strike warplanes separately joined other NATO aircraft in a "major strike" on Tripoli.
Rubbing it into the face of anyone trying for a negotiated settlement, Hague said today: "This is not mission creep, changing the nature of the mission; this is intensifying what we are doing in order to make this mission a success."
Negotiated Settlement to Libya Conflict Sought by Russia
June 6 (EIRNS)Mikhail Margelov, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's special envoy to Africa, was to arrive in Libya today. He said June 3 that he would go to Benghazi to meet with the NATO-backed rebels. He also said: "I do not rule out that I may have to go to Tripoli, too, if I get the corresponding order from the president," according to the Russian news agency, Interfax. Margelov said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in contact with Tripoli, which is held by Qaddafi's forces.
Before he left Moscow, Margelov stated explicitly that the purpose of his trip was to find a negotiated settlement: "My trip is an attempt to help the Libyan elite find a national consensus." Russia, he noted, "has a unique opportunity to become a bridge between those parts of the Libyan political elite which see the future of their country as one united state."
Any solution must "be acceptable to all Libyans," Lavrov said in an interview the same day, in comments similar to those made by South African President Jacob Zuma after he returned from a trip to Tripoli which was backed by the African Union.
The Margelov trip was announced June 3, the day before British Foreign Minister William Hague visited rebels in Benghazi (see above).