Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

UK urged not to expand Libya role

Deploying British military advisers to help rebel fighters in Libya would prolong fighting and harm chances of peace in the country, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's foreign minister has claimed.

Abdul Ati al-Obeidi described the overseas military presence as "a step backwards" and proposed a ceasefire to allow civilians to discuss what they wanted.

He said: "We think any military presence is a step backwards and we are sure that if this bombing stopped and there is a real ceasefire we could have a dialogue among all Libyans about what they want - democracy, political reform, constitution, election. This could not be done with what is going on now."

His comments came after Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that a group of British Army officers will be deployed to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi in a mentoring role to help leaders co-ordinating attacks on the dictator's army. It is understood that around 10 experienced officers will join a team already in the city working with the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC).

Mr Hague said the Army officers would help prevent attacks on civilians, in line with the United Nations Security Council resolution authorising military action against Gaddafi's forces. He also said they would advise the NTC on how to improve their military organisational structures, communications and logistics.

However, the officers will not be involved in training or arming the opposition's fighting forces and have nothing to do with the planing or execution of NTC military operations, Mr Hague said. A similar number of advisers are believed to be being deployed by the French.

Libya's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim said Britain's attempt to help the rebels is futile and would fail, adding: "This is an impossible mission. To organise who? They (the rebels) are different groups. There is no leader. They are not well-organised, and I am sure it will be a failure."

MPs also expressed concern about the deployment, accusing the government of "mission creep" and warning it risks being sucked into a Vietnam-style conflict.

Senior Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell said: "Sending advisers for a limited purpose is probably within the terms of resolution 1973, but it must not be seen as a first instalment of further military deployment. Vietnam began with an American president sending military advisers. We must proceed with caution."

Britain has already supplied rebels with 1,000 sets of body armour and telecommunications equipment. The Government has also pledged £2 million to help thousands of stranded civilians flee war-torn Misrata by boat.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph