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Dr Fox - operations in Libya are about protecting civilians

Speaking about events in Libya this weekend, British Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said that as long as the regime's forces are targeting civilians the international coalition will act against them.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4

Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 operating from Gioia del Colle air base in southern Italy [Picture: Senior Aircraftman Neil Chapman, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

Dr Fox spoke to Sky News yesterday, Sunday 27 March 2011. Discussing the background to coalition activity in Libya recently he said:

The UN resolution is very clear that what we are about is protecting the civilian population. It was very clear that the regime was going to attack Benghazi, a city of a million people. We protected them from that particular fate.

The liberation of Ajdabiya is very important because Ajdabiya controls the water supply to Benghazi. So, having that free from the regime control, again we’ve helped the population not just of Ajdabiya but also Benghazi.

What is key is that as the rebel forces are moving west to Brega and then Ras Lanuf, it puts them in control of Libya’s oil output and that is a very substantial change in the dynamic internally in that particular situation, but the UN resolution is clear, that as long as the regime are targeting civilians, as they continue to do in Misurata for example, the international coalition will act against them.

This is not the international community acting against a regime, this is the international community acting against a regime which was killing its own people, and that’s the importance of what is happening.

If Colonel Gaddafi had stopped at threatening Benghazi, if he had stopped at threatening Ajdabiya, if he had stopped threatening Misurata, this would not be happening.

The person who is actually in control of this is Colonel Gaddafi, it’s the regime that is killing the civilian population and the international community has decided that it is not going to allow that to happen.

Asked if there is any co-ordination between the rebels and the coalition, Dr Fox said:

Our job is to make sure that where the population is being attacked or threatened, whether it’s by tanks or artillery or by rockets, that we will protect the population from that threat.

We have seen some very distressing pictures from other parts of the country where the regime are still pounding into homes, into schools, even hospitals, and we have now an international legal right to protect the civilians and that’s here at NATO in Brussels.

What the co-ordination is now about is bringing all those nations together, hopefully under a single command, so that there is greater co-ordination of the military effort.

Asked whether the end of the conflict will only come with either the removal, the departure or the death of Colonel Gaddafi, Dr Fox said:

The resolution is clear that this is about protecting the civilian population. Clearly the dynamic inside Libya is changing, and remember how this all started, it started because you saw it in Tunisia and Egypt, there was an uprising of the people against the regimes.

The military on those occasions tended to stand back and allow the people to have their voice heard; in Libya something very different happened. The regime tried to crush the voice of the people, and more than that, it attempted to inflict terror on the population, and the international community, and it is a very, very wide international community that has supported this resolution remember, decided that they were not going to allow people to be slaughtered in their beds.

It will be over when people can sleep at night knowing they are going to be safe from a regime that has been willing to inflict terror and destruction across their own country.

Asked whether the rebels push on to areas which are not rebel-held and it seems there is no conflict [inaudible], even Tripoli, will the message from the coalition be you’re on your own, Dr Fox said:

This is not us taking a side, as I said this is us protecting the civilian population. It is very clear, and it was very clear before we became involved, that there was an uprising of the people of Libya, that they wanted a different form of government, and ultimately it is up to them to decide that. We are there to make sure that the current regime does not use its military force to subdue that by force as has happened up till now.

Asked where the coalition stands if the rebels arrive at Tripoli and there is a major battle, Dr Fox said:

I don’t think we know what the people of Tripoli actually want because there is quite a heavy regime presence there as in other parts of the west of the country and we will see as the political equilibrium shifts, if it continues to shift, exactly what the people of Libya do want and what the reaction of the regime will be.

There is no doubt that we’ve given a fillip to the rebels, that they have increased confidence, and I hope that what will ultimately happen is that without further bloodshed the people of Libya will rise up and be able to determine what sort of government they want and to control their own destiny and not have it inflicted upon them by a very vicious regime indeed.

Asked whether he considers arming the rebels or helping them out, Dr Fox said:

There is an international arms embargo in place, there is a UN resolution, and we have to abide by that, you can’t pick and choose which resolutions you decide to operate within and we are not arming the rebels.

Any other country would have to decide how it interpreted a UN resolution but our interpretation is clear and we are not arming the rebels.

Asked about military involvement form the Arab League Dr Fox said:

We’ve seen aircraft from Qatar actually flying to help enforce the no-fly zone. I’ll be visiting some of the Gulf countries later on this week to have further discussions about how we can get help in the wider.

As a coalition, we increasingly determine who does which operations. For example the UK is flying our Typhoons to patrol the air, not necessarily to be firing weapons. Our Tornado aircraft are the ones that are involved in ground attack.

But I think we should be welcoming those from other countries and I think Qatar is giving a very welcome lead and we should praise them for that because the more countries that can be persuaded to join the international coalition, the easier it is to persuade those in the Arab world that we are acting in their best interests and we are not applying a solution from outside which is of course what Colonel Gaddafi and some of the other leaders in the region would like those in the Arab world to believe.

Published 28 March 2011