France to send advisers to Libyan rebels

April 20, 2011 at 8:26 AM
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TRIPOLI, Libya, April 20 (UPI) -- France said Wednesday it would join Britain in sending military liaison officers to support Libyan rebels fighting to remove leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.

The announcement came as rebel leader Mustafa Abdel-Jalil met with President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, The New York Times reported.

Trying to deflect criticism that the decision to send military advisers to Libya would draw the country's troops closer to the conflict, French government spokesman Francois Baroin said the number of military liaison officers would be in single digits and their mission would be to help "organize the protection of the civilian population."

The BBC reported about 10 British officers and 10 French officers would be members of the mission.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday British advisers would help the rebel forces "improve their military organizational structures, communications and logistics."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday he was "absolutely opposed to a deployment of troops on the ground." Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said Wednesday the U.N. Security Council resolution permitting air strikes to protect Libyan citizens from Gadhafi did not authorize the use of foreign ground forces.

Hague said the initiative would comply with the U.N. resolution that forbids foreign occupation forces, the BBC reported.

Libya's foreign minister told the British broadcaster the plan to send a military team to advise rebels fighting Gadhafi would do more harm than good in trying to bring about peace in the country.

A British military presence in Benghazi, the de facto rebel headquarters, would "prolong" fighting, Abdul Ati al-Obeidi said.

Obeidi said a cease-fire must be reached, followed by an interim period to prepare for U.N.-supervised elections, as scenario proposed by the African Union that was rejected by rebels but reportedly accepted by Gadhafi.

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

In Misurata, where Gadhafi forces have been engaged in fierce fighting with the rebels for control, al-Jazeera reported a playground has become a battleground.

Witnesses said gun battles have been occurring at a school in the besieged town in western Libya.

Gadhafi forces reportedly have the town surrounded on three sides, cutting off food, water and electricity. Western leaders have accused the government of trying to starve the residents into submission.

In the month since the U.N. Security Council passed the resolution, coalition aircraft flew more than 2,800 missions, striking a range of targets that include tanks, rocket launchers, armored vehicles and ammunition sites, NATO said in a release.

"We are keeping up the pressure on the Gadhafi regime forces to stop their brutal onslaught against civilians," a NATO spokesperson said from the military alliance's headquarters in Brussels. "It's a challenging task -- but we are making significant progress in weakening Gaddafi's ability to use his military machine against his own people."

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