UN Security Council Votes To Protect Libyan Civilians

The United Nations Security Council on Thurday authorized a no-fly zone and other measures to protect Libyan civilians who have been standing against the Gaddafi regime. Air strikes by Western and Arab nations against Libya could begin as soon as Friday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montage.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Egypt.

The governments of France and Great Britain, said, this morning, they are preparing to engage in military action to protect civilians in Libya against attacks by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Those announcements came after the U.N. Security Council, last night, authorized the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya and other military measures to protect civilians. In response to the U.N. action, the Libyan government, this morning, announced an immediate ceasefire. Here is Libya's foreign minister, Mussa Kussa.

Mr. MUSSA KUSSA (Libyan Foreign Minister): (Through translator) Therefore, Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire and the stoppage of all military operations.

WERTHEIMER: Joining us, now, to discuss these developments is NPR's Tom Gjelten.

Tom, good morning.

TOM GJELTEN: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: This ceasefire announcement by Libya was obviously prompted by the U.N. action last night. Could you talk about what the U.N. specifically called for?

GJELTEN: Linda, it established a no-fly zone in Libya. And what that means is that other countries are authorized to stop Gadhafi's regime from using any aircraft; no fighter jets, no helicopters, no flying. Those other governments now have the U.N.'s permission to fly their own fighters over Libya, shoot down Gadhafi's aircraft and to go after anti-aircraft weapons on the ground, radar stations that could threaten these planes that are enforcing this no-fly zone. So that means air strikes.

But it goes beyond that. This resolution authorizes U.N. member-states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians. That is sweeping language. It says that Gadhafi's forces, for example, if they're attacking a town with tanks or heavy artillery, this resolution authorizes outside governments to go after those tanks or artillery, helicopters, anything threatening civilians. It calls for everything except an occupation force. So there'll be no foreign boots on the ground.

WERTHEIMER: Does this mean, when Libya says it calls for a ceasefire, does that mean that we're unlikely to see any of that happen right away?

GJELTEN: Probably so. It appears the world is willing to give Gadhafi an opportunity, here, to pull back. We have tape, this morning, of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, speaking to the BBC today. Here's what he said about Gadhafi's ceasefire promises.

Mr. DAVID CAMERON (Prime Minister, Great Britain): We will judge him by his actions, not his words. What is absolutely clear is the U.N. Security Council resolution says he must stop what he's doing, brutalizing his people. If not, all necessary measures can follow to make him stop. That is what we agreed, last night, that is what we are preparing for, and we'll judge him by what he does.

GJELTEN: As for those preparations, Linda, Prime Minister Cameron told the British Parliament, earlier, that British fighter jets and their crews are being moved, today, to foreword locations, and that they would be taking part in any military action against Libya.

WERTHEIMER: Any indication of how much time these governments will give Gadhafi?

GJELTEN: Well, I think this announcement does buy him time. A French government spokesman, this morning, said there would be prompt military action against Gadhafi forces, like tanks, if they were moving on Benghazi, the rebel stronghold. But if there are no military operations by the Gadhafi forces, it's unlikely there'll be any military action by other governments. Now, establishing a no-fly zone is much more complicated, that would take time.

WERTHEIMER: How likely is it that U.S. forces will take part in any of this military action?

GJELTEN: We'll see what President says when he talks about this, this afternoon. The U.S. role in any no-fly zone is key. On the other hand, the Obama administration does not want this looking like a U.S. operation. It was important, I think, for the United States to get Britain and France to take the lead. It was also important to get an endorsement from the Arab League, which they got this last weekend. And I think that the United States wants Arabs to participate in this action.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks John.

GJELTEN: You're welcome, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Gjelten.

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