Libya: Coalition Is Overstepping Its U.N. Mandate

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Dozens of governments and international organizations are in London to discuss the future of Libya, and ways to get Moammar Gadhafi to step down. President Obama addressed the nation Monday to explain the U.S. mission to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger. Libyans are closely following the developments.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Today, dozens of governments and international organizations meet in London. They are discussing the future of Libya, a future without Moammar Gadhafi.

INSKEEP: The meeting shows the hope of the international community, though overthrowing Gadhafi is not formally the goal of the military intervention there. Last night, President Obama offered an explanation of the U.S. role.

President BARACK OBAMA: The task that I assigned our forces, to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger, and to establish a no-fly zone, carries with it a UN mandate and international support. It's also what the Libyan opposition asked us to do. If we tried to overthrow Gadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter.

INSKEEP: People in Libya are closely following all these developments, and we're going now to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who's in Tripoli.

And Lourdes, what is the government in Tripoli saying about the president's speech and about this meeting in London?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, clearly, even though President Obama stated yesterday the aim is not regime change, the very fact that this meeting in London is taking place and it will discuss a post-Gadhafi Libya suggests otherwise, and that fact was not lost on the government here in Tripoli.

The state agency here published a letter by Gadhafi to the meeting in London. It compared the NATO actions here to those of Hitler in World War II, saying quote, "stop your barbaric, unjust offensive on Libya. Leave Libya for the Libyans. You're committing a genocide against a peaceful people."

The government here has been accusing over the past 10 days, since this offensive started, that the international coalition is trying to overstep its UN mandate. It claims it's no longer simply protecting civilians but actively helping the rebels.

So kind of political stalemate seems to be developing here. It's really unclear now how short of removing Gadhafi he will leave power. He's been consistently defiant, and despite a new plan apparently that would offer him exile, it is unlikely he'll accept and NATO action will have to continue while he's in control.

INSKEEP: So his allegation is that NATO is actively helping the rebels. And whether that is strictly true or not, the rebels certainly do seem to be advancing lately.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, actually, what happened in the east yesterday shows the limits of the rebels and of the bombing campaign. Basically, the rebels had retaken a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but it was basically territory that had been under their control previously. And when they got yesterday to areas controlled by Gadhafi's loyalists, they were repelled.

The rebels are ill-trained. They have no command structure. They're ill-equipped. What has helped advance so far are the airstrikes. But should NATO be the rebel air force?

INSKEEP: So that's one of the questions that we're waiting for an answer for. Another has to do with what is happening in the West, where Tripoli is, where Gadhafi still controls most of the cities but not quite all. And if I'm not mistaken, Lourdes, you were taken to a city that Gadhafi claimed to have recaptured in the West.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. We were taken on a trip to Misrata, the third largest city in Libya. The government took us there to show us the city had been quote/unquote "liberated" from rebel control.

Let me play you a little bit of tape.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you can hear, the city is far from being in government hands. It was an utterly surreal scene. We were taken to this small sliver that the government controls inside Misrata, and it was just a scene of utter devastation. The intent was to show the foreign media that Misrata had been liberated. But what we saw, as happened so often with this these propaganda tours, was directly the opposite. There were gun battles taking place while we were there. We were only allowed to stay for about 20 minutes and then we were told it was unsafe and we had to leave. The bus carrying us was peeling away so fast it actually almost left some journalists behind.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Lourdes, thanks for your observations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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