NATO General: 'We're Doing a Great Job' in Libya

April 12, 2011 - 11:54 AM

Brussels (AP) - A NATO general sharply rejected French criticism Tuesday of the operation in Libya, saying the North Atlantic military alliance is performing well and protecting civilians effectively.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had said NATO should be doing more to take out strongman Moammar Gadhafi's heavy weaponry that is targeting civilians in Libya.

Juppe said NATO's actions were "not enough" and insisted the alliance should be firing on the weapons being used by Gadhafi's forces to target civilians in the rebel-held city of Misrata. Juppe spoke on France-Info radio the day after Libyan rebels rejected a cease-fire proposal by African mediators because it did not insist that Gadhafi relinquish power.

"NATO has to play its role in full. NATO wanted to take the military command of the operations," Juppe said.

France's frustration with the stalemate on the ground, where Libyan rebels have struggled to capitalize on Western air attacks, has been echoed across Western capitals.

But at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dutch Brig. Gen. Mark Van Uhm responded that the alliance was successfully enforcing an arms embargo against Libya, patrolling a no-fly zone and protecting civilians in the North African nation.

"I think with the assets we have, we're doing a great job," Van Uhm told reporters.

However, he repeatedly declined to comment on reports that some alliance members were limiting their planes to patrolling the no-fly zone and prohibiting them from dropping bombs, saying that was a matter on for governments to comment on.

France and Britain, meanwhile, sent out conflicting signals about the need to provide succor to Misrata, which has been subjected to weeks of bombardment by Gadhafi forces. Juppe said in his interview that the EU had to do more to get humanitarian aid to Misrata, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters that aid was still getting through.

"Humanitarian assistance is getting through to Libya, including to Misrata. That, so far, has not needed military assistance to deliver it," Hague said before Tuesday's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

He said those fighting to enforce UN resolutions against Libya had to "maintain and intensify" their efforts through NATO -- something the U.K. had done already by deploying extra aircraft to police the no-fly zone.

"Events in the Middle East are the most important events so far in the 21st century in the world, and the responsibility of the European Union is commensurate with the historic nature of those events," Hague said.

The European Union said over the weekend it was ready to launch a humanitarian mission in Misrata soon, with possible military support, if it received a request from the U.N.

IHH, an Islamic aid group in Turkey, said it would send an aid ship to Misrata on Wednesday carrying food, powdered milk, infant formula, medicines and a mobile health clinic. Separately, Van Uhm said two aid ships had already visited the city and another would arrive Tuesday.

The IHH has a mission to assist Muslims in the region. It deployed dozens of activists, including doctors, two days after the Libyan uprising began in February and established a tent city and a soup kitchen at a Libyan border crossing with Tunisia.

Meanwhile, Libya's former foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, was traveling to Doha, Qatar, to share his insight on the workings of Gadhafi's inner circle, British officials said.

British officials said they hope Koussa's trip to Doha, where Arab and Western leaders are meeting to chart the way forward in Libya, will give participants a better idea of how to force Gadhafi out of office.

"He's a Gadhafi insider. He may be able to offer solutions where others are falling short," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Qatari officials have not spoken publicly about Koussa's arrival and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Hague is co-chairing the meeting with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jabr Al Thani. Among those scheduled to attend are Juppe and Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas. The United States will be represented by William J. Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Koussa had been held at a safe house since he fled to Britain late last month, but agents from Britain's external intelligence agency MI6 stopped questioning him last week, according to the British official.

Britain's Foreign Office added that Koussa was "a free individual, who can travel to and from the U.K. as he wishes."

Noman Benotman, a relative of Koussa's, said he believed Koussa had "cleared most of the legal hurdles in the U.K." surrounding his alleged involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing and Libya's arming of the Irish Republican Army.

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Angela Charlton in Paris, Raf Casert in Luxembourg, Selcan Hacaoglu in Turkey, Adam Schreck in Doha, Qatar, and Paisley Dodds and Raphael G. Satter in London contributed to this report.