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Under global pressure, Libya declares ceasefire

March 18, 2011 20:59 IST

Buckling under global pressure, Muammar Gaddafi on Friday announced a ceasefire and halted all military operations, hours after the United Nations authorised a no-fly zone over Libya and United States and allies readied plans for a military action which France said could come 'within hours.'

"We have declared a ceasefire. We have halted all military operations to protect civilians in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution," Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said in a live broadcast over state-run television.

Koussa said the ceasefire "will take the country back to safety" and ensure security for all Libyans. But he also criticised the authorisation of international military action, calling it a violation of Libya's sovereignty.

He implored all governments and NGOs to send fact finding missions to Libya to come to the right decision and ascertain facts on the ground.

His unannounced broadcast came as Gaddafi's forces were still reported to be 120 kms away from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and his men were locked in pitched battles with rebels at the key town of Ajdaibya in the east and Zintan, Nalut and Misurata in western Libya.

Al Jazeera said that Gaddafi's forces had encircled Ajdaibya, occupying its eastern, western and southern outskirts and tanks and artillery were pounding Misurata.

Some of his forces had bypassed Ajdaibya, to head towards Benghazi. But, Gaddafi's air force as well as helicopter gunships were not in action as the Arab channel said Libyan strongman had paused his generals in an apparent bid to marshal his forces to contend with expected Western air strikes.

Al Jazeera said rebel forces were not contactable immediately to know whether the ceasefire had taken force on the battle lines. Gaddafi's cave-in came as British Prime Minister David Cameron and the French government spokesman said the allied air strikes could come "rapidly... within a few hours".

Cameron announced in the House of Commons that Royal Air Force will send its latest typhoon fighters along with the older tornadoes "in the coming hours" to enforce a no-fly zone.

He told lawmakers that Britain will join the UN authorised operations to stop Gaddafi from launching "a brutal attack using air, land and sea forces" on the people of Benghazi, BBC reported.

After the UN Security Council approved the resolution, US President Barack Obama telephoned the leaders of France and UK, the White House said, in an apparent bid to give final shape to the action blueprint.

CNN, quoting top Pentagon officials, reported that Obama administration has readied plans to enforce the no-fly zone and allied warplanes could be over Libya by Sunday or Monday.

Other major EU nations including, UK, Denmark and Norway have said that they were ready to send fighter units to ground the Libyan airforce.

As the news of rapid deployment by the allies came in, Al Jazeera said Muammar Gaddafi's forces had launched an all out attack to capture the city of Misurata.

The Arab channel said that Libyan army artillery guns and tanks were shelling the rebel bastion of Misurata, east of Tripoli after a nightlong intense fighting with the rebels for the control of the town.

Though the rebels claimed they were holding on to the town, Al Jazeera quoted Libyan State Television as claiming that Gaddafi loyalists had overrun Misurata which is 210 kilometres from the Libyan capital.

Prior to the enforcement of the no-fly zone, NATO has launched a 24 hour air surveillance of Libya by Sentry AWACS. US has also already positioned warships off the Libyan coast and in UK British Forces were on standby for air strikes and could be mobilised by Sunday.

A huge crowd had assembled in Benghazi to watch the crucial UN vote on outdoor TV projection and burst into celebrations once the approval of the no-fly zone was announced.

ABC said that US was keen to involve Arab nations in the enforcement of the no-fly zone and quoted officials as saying that Jordan, Qatar and the UAE were among possible participants.

France is also keen to play the Arab card and Oman and the UAE as well as Canada, Norway have offered to send fighters. China, Germany, Australia and Russia have said they will not take part in imposing the no-fly zone.

Elaborating on what could be Western response to the Libyan crisis, BBC said that to start with allied forces would jam all Libyan communications and go in for hi-tech satellite imagery of Gaddafi's arms stockpiles.

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