March 19, 2011 (WASHINGTON) – The African Union (AU) on Saturday criticized the launching of military operations by U.S. and European countries on Libya to enforce a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted this week.
- MEDITERRANEAN SEA (March 19, 2011) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stout launches a Tomahawk missile in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. This was one of approximately 110 cruise missiles fired from U.S. and British ships and submarines targeting about 20 radar and anti-aircraft sites along Libya’s Mediterranean coast (AFP)
French planes fired the first shots, destroying tanks and armored vehicles in eastern Libya eight years to the day after U.S.-led forces headed across the Iraqi border in 2003.
Hours later, U.S. and British ships and submarines launched more than 110 cruise missiles against air defenses in the oil-producing North African country.
CBS news network said that three B-2 stealth bombers dropped 40 bombs on a major Libyan airfield.
Today’s attacks were designed to cripple Libyan air defenses as the West tries to force the Libyan leader Muammar from power who has unleashed his forces to crush a popular uprising since mid-February that eventually turned into an armed rebellion that managed to control large parts of the country.
The Libyan opposition leadership, Arab League and Arab Gulf states have demanded that the international community intervene militarily by imposing a no-fly zone to prevent Gaddafi from using his air force against civilian population.
The United Arab Emirates and Qatar are reported to have dedicated fighter jets in the military operations.
It was only the African Union (AU) that issued a statement earlier this month saying it opposed "any foreign military intervention, whatever its form".
Despite this position, the three African countries sitting on the UNSC voted in favor of the resolution which authorized member states "to take all necessary measures ... to protect civilians".
But an AU panel established to seek a peaceful end to the crisis called today for an "immediate stop" to air strikes stressing that it rejects "any kind of foreign military intervention" in the north African country.
The situation in Libya "demands urgent action so an African solution (can be found) to the very serious crisis which this sister nation is going through", said Mauritanian President Ould Abdel Aziz who is one of the panel members.
A solution must take into account "our desire that Libya’s unity and territorial integrity be respected", he said.
The AU committee on Libya is composed of five African heads of state. But the meeting in the Mauritanian capital was only attended by the presidents of Mauritania, Mali and Congo.
South Africa and Uganda were represented by ministers. The Chairperson of the AU Commission Jean Ping is also believed to have been there.
The panel was scheduled to travel to Libya on Sunday but it revealed today that they have been unable to get international permission to fly there.
Ironically South African officials expressed doubt whether the AU panel would be impartial and even questioned the wisdom of sitting on it.
"There are concerns here at home about this panel and whether South Africa should be part of it. It’s almost a given what they will say, given their relationship with that man [Gaddafi]," a senior government official told the Mail & Guardian based in South Africa.
The newspaper said that government officials in Johannesburg are worried that should the panel return with a recommendation to the AU that favors Gaddafi, it will spoil the image president Jacob Zuma wants to portray on the continent — that of himself as a statesman who believes in brokering peaceful solutions that do not merely serve its strongmen.
Western countries and NATO have initially insisted they will not intervene militarily in Libya without the approval of regional organizations such as the Arab League and the AU and a clear UNSC mandate.
However, references to AU’s prior consent were later dropped and Western officials only spoke of Arab League decision.
Today an emergency summit of world leaders in Paris called to discuss the implementation of no-fly zone over Libya was skipped by the AU for unknown reasons despite being invited and no African leader was present.
In a related issue, the government of Equatorial Guinea today said that Libyan television had misrepresented a telephone call between the country’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, and the Libyan leader.
Nguema who is the rotating AU chairman this year, only called Gaddafi to gain guarantees for the security of the AU Observation Committee that was to travel to Libya.
"Contrary to what some information disseminated by the Libyan television seems to suggest, the telephone contact established by H.E. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea and holder of the current Rotating Presidency of the African Union, with the current President of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, was due, solely and exclusively, to his responsibility as mediator of the AU, and was for the precise purpose of guaranteeing the security of the Heads of State comprising the Observation Committee that will travel in the next few hours to the areas of conflict".
"This Government also wishes to recall that the current rotating President of the African Union has already declared that he will not state any personal opinion, or show any unilateral support to any of the parties, in Libya or in other places of conflict within the African continent, since as Rotating President of this institution, his opinion is ascribed completely to the agreed official posture established by the organizations of the African Union".
The South African president came under fire in his country last week over a call he made to Gaddafi. Libyan TV had quoted Zuma as telling his counterpart that that the AU should investigate the “conspiracy” against him and the world should not believe what foreign media were saying about Libya.
The Ugandan government on Thursday said it opposes “foreign interference” in Libya and declared it will not freeze Libyan-owned assets in the country.
Libyan generosity and Gaddafi’s role in the creation of the African Union could explain the continents cautious stand, experts say.
The AU was born in the 1999 Sirte Declaration, named after a summit hosted by Gaddafi in his hometown on the Libyan coast.
The declaration said its authors felt inspired by Gaddafi’s "vision for a strong and united Africa."
"The AU as an organization has benefited significantly from Gaddafi’s wealth," said Fred Golooba Mutebi of the Institute of Social Research at Kampala’s Makerere University to Agence France Presse (AFP).
Delphine Lecoutre, a researcher with the French Center for Ethiopian Studies, pointed to the AU’s weak statement as an example of the PSC timidity in facing up to the behavior of its leaders.
"There was a Peace and Security Council meeting on Libya, which resulted in a cosmetic communiqué hardly condemning the violence in Libya and putting it in a [clever] way, loss of human life and destruction of property, but nothing regarding the political situation in the country," said Lecoutre. "It is difficult for the AU to deal with that case."