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Mark Pritchard MP: The Libyan people should not be left defenceless in pursuit of freedom

Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard MP is Vice Chairman of the Conservative Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the National Security Strategy Committee.

Having not discouraged the Libyan people from making a stand against Gaddafi’s brutal and bloody regime there is now a strong moral imperative for the international community, including Arab states, to stand with the Libyan people.

It is becoming increasingly clear from hourly graphic media reports that unless opposition forces are given access to modern weaponry, Gaddafi’s forces will soon retake lost ground, reconsolidate the ‘mad dog’s’ grip on power, and advance to kill off anti-Gaddafi forces – with hundreds of women and children cut down in the crossfire.

This is not a call for international troops to land on Libyan soil – but rather a call to the international community to allow the Libyan opposition forces ‘access’ to modern and portable military equipment, so that the Libyan people are given the tools to finish the job. For the crisis in Libya is primarily a Libyan problem, best solved by the Libyan people, and requires a long-term Libyan solution.

Weaponry, such as light machine guns, anti-tank and portable shoulder-launched surface to air missiles, provided via an Arab country or a coalition of Arab countries, would immediately reduce Gaddafi’s overwhelming military advantage, empower the increasingly beleaguered opposition forces and shell-shocked population, and would effect a rapid ‘self-help’ no fly zone - as Gaddafi’s helicopter gunships and fast jets start are grounded following downed aircraft. This initiative would not replace a UN-backed no fly zone but would be complimentary and provide much needed and speedier response.

The Prime Minister is right to push for a no fly zone; without his early call for action the international community, including the United States, would have remain wrong-footed, would have lost the initiative, and would have been seen to have very little to say or do as the population death toll rises. The Security Council needs to move swiftly to a positive vote.

Arming the disparate opposition forces does pose multiple risks. These same weapons could be used between anti-Gaddafi forces should the dictator flee or fall. The weapons could later be used on Western interests or turned on international military assets. However, those are imponderables for tomorrow and are inconveniently overtaken by current ‘live’ events and the immediacy of the Libyan people’s need. Moreover, mistakes from recent history on the merits and de-merits of arming opposition forces, overtly or covertly, should certainly inform foreign policy strategy, but past misjudgements or mistakes, cannot be allowed to create an environment of inaction or an international community haunted by its own recent past and hamstrung by its own moral weakness. The overwhelming evidence from Libya is that the time to act is today.

Indeed, unless the United Nations takes swift action the international community will be despatching a clear message to despots throughout the region; that if they crush their populations hard enough, stand up to the international community, mount a counter-media offensive, and make some marginal democratic changes, then their regimes, in the face of the international procrastination, may just survive to live and brutalise their people’s another day.

Such political and diplomatic inertia could halt the recent advances of freedom, democracy, and justice, throughout the oppressed world. It would be another spectacular missed opportunity for the United Nations to stand with those who themselves make a stand.

The majority of the international community agrees Gaddafi has to go. All the major Libyan tribes agree he must go. So in the furtherance of this objective, and in the pursuit of freedom and democracy, the Libyan people must now not be left defenceless and left to drown in their own blood.


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