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John Baron MP: Is Libya the longest assassination attempt in history? Time for peace talks.

John Baron is Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay and a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

The debate and vote in the House of Commons in March was very much couched in terms of humanitarian aid. But the citizens of Benghazi were saved months ago. Developments since – including NATO’s targeting of Gaddafi’s winnebago and family homes – prove regime change is the key driver. And the arming of the rebels clearly shows NATO is now operating outside the remit of UN Resolution 1973. The civilians of Libya are suffering as a result. The time has now come for peace talks.

The claim that NATO’s intervention saved the citizens of Benghazi from slaughter will be properly scrutinised in the fullness of time. This claim conveniently overlooked the fact that Gaddafi was having real trouble at the time in taking Misrata - a much smaller town in the west. But even if the claim was found to be true, it begs the question why a no-fly zone (NFZ) could not have been instigated by Arab neighbours.
Egypt alone, with its vastly superior air force untouched by a largely peaceful revolution, was ideally placed – the Libyan air force would not have lasted an afternoon. But this was not the mission. Instead regime change was – and the West was better placed to make it happen. Why else did NATO not put in NFZs in countries such as Yemen and Bahrain, whose autocratic leaders were busy putting down their own people at the time? It was because these leaders were friends.

Developments since our initial intervention illustrate just how transparent the humanitarian fig leaf has become. First we had the joint statement by the three leaders which made clear they wanted Gaddafi’s removal. Then we had the rejection of the African Union (AU) peace proposals - which largely mirrored UN Resolution 1973 - because they made no provision for Gaddafi’s removal. Increasingly frustrated at the lack of success, we then deployed military advisors on the ground and Apache helicopters. Most recently, NATO has resorted to targeting Gaddafi’s family homes – killing his son and three grandchildren – and winnebago.

This has now become the longest assassination attempt in history. In indicating time and cost lines, the Government initially talked of weeks and tens of millions of pounds. This campaign has now lasted months and cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

But there comes a point when the bombing of sand becomes counterproductive. Months into this campaign and many of the civilians of Libya are still without the basic necessities – in some areas they have no water, electricity or telecommunications. Hospitals can only provide the most basic of facilities, and people are dying as a result. There appears to be little law and order, with bloody reprisals taking place on both sides. No wonder neighbouring countries are concerned by the tide of refugees.

Meanwhile, we have learnt in recent weeks that the French are arming the rebels in defiance of the UN mandate. UN Resolution 1973 specifically allows NATO to protect civilians, but most accept that it does not allow the arming of the rebels. Indeed, NATO has confirmed that this would be beyond its remit. Yet no one has questioned whether the French have broken international law. So much for the arms embargo in Libya.
There can be little doubt that we have lost the moral high ground in this increasingly shabby affair. The targeting of Gaddafi and the killing of his family, the arming of the rebels in defiance of the UN mandate, and the prolonged misery of civilians in Libya, all lay bare the need for a fresh approach.

Despite continual NATO targeting – the intensity of which has tested Europe’s ability to supply the appropriate munitions – we have a stalemate on the ground. Gaddafi remains in power. The tribes in the west have broadly remained loyal to him. Those around him have remained loyal – despite NATO’s increasingly desperate attempts to encourage them to turn.

No wonder the French may be getting cold feet. French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet has today apparently said we must now sit around the table and that “we’ve shown there is no solution through force.” If true, such a statement is a clear U-turn.

NATO’s strategy is in tatters. The targeting of Gaddafi has so far failed. The UN mandate has been exceeded. The civilians continue to suffer. We now need a peace process which involves the cessation of violence and negotiations with no preconditions – especially regime change. We may then achieve what many believed we had originally set out to do – and that is help the civilians of Libya. 


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