Libya’s government has announced an immediate ceasefire against pro-democracy protesters, hours after the United Nations Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over the country.
In a statement televised on Friday, Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister, said his government was interested in protecting all civilians and foreigners.
“We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations,” he said, adding “[Libya] takes great interest in protecting civilians”.
Koussa said because his country was a member of the United Nations it was “obliged to accept the UN Security Council’s resolutions”.
But government forces continued to fire on the rebel-held western city of Misurata, witnesses said, where an earlier attack had claimed the lives of at least 25 people.
Abdulbasid Abu Muzairik, a resident in the western coastal town, told Al Jazeera there was shelling from artillery and tanks.
“The Gaddafi forces are at the outskirts of the city but they continue to shell the centre of the city,” he said. “The ceasefire has not taken place; he [Gaddafi] is still continuing up until now to shell and kill the people in the city.”
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Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Tripoli, said the government’s statement was “very carefully crafted … very deliberate, almost forensic”.
“Clearly the Libyans have been poring over their United Nations charters to decide which bits to disagree with and on the whole they can’t find very much.”
“My hunch is that it is an effort to buy time because the Libyans, I think, have been taken completely by surprise by this sudden resurgence of an [international] consensus on action.”
The ceasefire declaration also contrasted with earlier comments by Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s leader, who warned residents of Benghazi, the eastern rebel stronghold, that his forces would show “no mercy” in an impending assault on the city.
“We will track them [fighters] down, and search for them, alley by alley, road by road,” he said in a radio address on Thursday.
Britain and France ‘cautious’
Tony Birtley, Al Jazeera’s reporter in Benghazi, said pro-democracy fighters there were positive but cautious about the ceasefire.
France also said it was remaining wary.
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“We have to be very cautious. He [Gaddafi] is now starting to be afraid, but on the ground the threat has not changed,” Bernard Valero, foreign ministry spokesman told the Reuters news agency.
David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, responded to the ceasefire saying Gaddafi would be judged by “his actions not his words”.
“What is absolutely clear is the UN Security Council
resolution said he must stop what he is doing, brutalising his
“If not, all necessary measures can follow to make him
stop,” he told the BBC.
“That is what we agreed last night, that is what we are preparing for and we”ll judge him by what he does.”
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, echoed Cameron’s views and said the “final result” of the UN’s resolution on Libya must be Gaddafi’s departure.
“Colonel Gaddafi’s refusal to hear the repeated calls up until now to halt violence against his own people has left us with no other choice but to pursue this course of action,” Clinton said.
“While this resolution is an important step, it is only that, an important step. We and our partners will continue to explore the most effective measures to end this crisis.”
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, also warned that the international community “will not be fooled” by Gaddafi’s government and will verify compliance with the UN resolution.
Earlier the British prime minister said his country was about to start sending fighter jets and surveillance aircraft to military bases in the Mediterranean in preparation for a no-fly zone.
Speaking to parliament he said Tornado and Typhoon jets would be deployed imminently along with surveillance and re-fuelling planes.
“Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can start to take the necessary action,” he said.
The UN Security Council backed a resolution authorising a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians late on Thursday.
The intervention, which is expected to be enforced by Britain, France, the US, Norway and Qatar, bans military aircraft from flying in Libyan airspace, but not commercial or humanitarian flights.
The Arab League has reiterated its support for the no-fly zone, but it is not clear to what extent Arab nations will be involved in the operation.
Paul Brennan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in London, said the military preparations by international forces were going to continue regardless of Koussa’s announcement.
“It could make it more difficult to actually launch attacks, but from the idea of preparation I don’t think it’s going to deflect the coalition forces at all.
“What they need to do at this early stage is get the forces into position so they can enforce a no-fly zone as authorised by the UN Security Council.
“They’ll decide at some point whether they attack any forces on the ground and that will depend largely on what Gaddafi”s forces are doing.”
Western countries pledged support for the no-fly zone on Friday, with many including France, Belgium, Spain and Canada saying they would deploy fighter jets and other military to the region.
Italy has also said it would make its military bases available and take an active role in any operations against Libya.
Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic agency, said earlier the Libyan government had closed its airspace to all traffic in response to the UN resolution. Egypt also confirmed that it had begun to enforce the no-fly zone and that all flights to Libya from Egypt have been halted.
Source: Al Jazeera