Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a statement to the House on the outcome of the London Conference on Libya and related events.
I informed the House last Thursday that planning was underway to transfer coalition operations from US to NATO command and control. On Sunday NATO allies decided to take on full responsibility for the implementation of all military aspects of Security Council Resolution 1973 including the civilian protection mission along with the no-fly zone and the arms embargo operations which are now under NATO command. The transition to full NATO command is underway. The North Atlantic Council will provide executive political direction for the military operations and is meeting later today. I hope the whole House will welcome the speed at which NATO has moved to put in place the planning and launch of these three demanding operations, more quickly than was the case for Bosnia or Kosovo.
There are currently 16 nations contributing assets to coalition operations, including nations from the middle east region. Fifteen nations have now committed a total of nearly 350 aircraft and vessels from 10 nations are supporting the arms embargo.
Yesterday Sweden announced that it would contribute 8 fighter aircraft. The UAE publicly announced their contribution of 12 air defence fighters on Friday last week. The NATO Secretary General has issued a request for further contributions which we hope other countries will consider seriously.
UK forces have undertaken over 160 aerial missions over Libya since operations began, in addition to missile strikes. We are continuing to target the military hardware that Qadhafi is using to kill his own people. Over the weekend, in addition to patrolling the No Fly Zone, RAF aircraft destroyed a number of main battle tanks and armoured vehicles near Misrata. The RAF also took part in a successful coalition mission against an ammunition storage facility near Sebha early on Monday morning.
As evidence of the care we are taking to minimise the risk of civilian casualties, yesterday I received a letter from the local council in Misrata, thanking Britain and our allies for the targeted strikes and the enforcement of the No Fly Zone which are alleviating pressure on the people of Misrata. The letter stated that the local council can “testify for the effectiveness and the accuracy of those strikes and confirm that there has been not a single case of civilian injury let alone death in and around Misrata” as a result of coalition activity. This is testament to the skill, experience and precision of our Armed Forces and the whole House will join me in paying tribute to them. Our country literally could not do without them for a single day and they are doing a great job in support of the civilian population of Libya.
The situation on the ground remains fluid. Regime forces have intensified their attacks, driving back opposition forces from ground they had taken in recent days. Misrata also came under heavy attack yesterday, with further loss of civilian life, including children, from mortars, sniper fire and attacks on all sides from regime tanks and personnel carriers. DfID have been involved in funding the successful provision of humanitarian assistance to the city and we are urgently examining options for the provision of further assistance. One obstacle to humanitarian support for the people of Misrata has been regime vessels trying to blockade the port. These vessels were attacked by coalition aircraft yesterday. Four of them were sunk and one vessel was beached.
To underline our grave concern at the regime’s behaviour, I can announce to the House that we have today taken steps to expel five diplomats at the Libyan Embassy in London, including the military attache. The government also judged that were these individuals to remain in Britain, they could pose a threat to our security. We also remain strongly committed to supporting the International Criminal Court in its investigations into crimes in Libya and ensuring that there is no impunity for barbaric acts against the Libyan people.
In my last Statement to the House I confirmed that I had invited the envoy of the Interim Transitional National Council, Mahmoud Jabril, to visit London. He did so yesterday for meetings with me and with the Prime Minister and to launch the Council’s vision for a democratic Libya. I will place a copy of this document in the Library of the House.
A British diplomatic mission also visited Benghazi on Monday and Tuesday this week, headed by a senior British diplomat Christopher Prentice. The purpose of the mission was to meet key Libyan opposition groups in eastern Libya including the ITNC and its Military Council; to gain a greater insight into the political and security situation; to explain British government policies towards Libya and to discuss future governance arrangements in Libya, including identifying what Britain can do to help. The team met the President of the ITNC Mustafa Al-Jalil, among others. They have now left Libya and further missions will follow shortly.
Mr Speaker, yesterday delegations including over 30 Foreign Ministers, the UN Secretary General and representatives of the Arab League, EU, NATO and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference met in London.
Our government went into the conference with three objectives, all of which were met.
First, to strengthen and broaden the international coalition committed to implementing UNSCRs 1970 and 1973. This was achieved. Many more countries were involved in the conference and supporting our objectives than at the time of the Paris Summit 11 days ago.
Second, we aimed to focus attention on the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance to alleviate suffering in Misrata and at Libya’s borders and to plan for the needs of Libya after conflict. The conference agreed priorities for a humanitarian response and welcomed an offer from the UN Secretary-General to lead the coordination of humanitarian assistance and planning for longer-term stabilisation support. Turkey, other key regional players and international agencies offered to support this work and take it forward. Contingency military planning also continues in the EU to enable support to humanitarian operations, if so requested by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as agreed at the European Council last Friday. It is right that we start planning now to support Libyans over the long term to build a peaceful and prosperous future.
Third, we argued that conference must agree the need for a political process, led by the Libyan people, which helps create the conditions in which the people of Libya can choose their own future, supported by the international community. Military action is not an end in itself. The announcement of a political programme by the ITNC was an important first step in this process. The Conference was also attended by the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Libya Mr Al-Khatib, who travelled to Libya last night.
The conference agreed that Qadhafi has lost all legitimacy, and to continue efforts to isolate him and his regime by considering additional sanctions on individuals and companies associated with the regime.
We agreed to establish a Libya Contact Group to take this work forward. The Contact Group will provide leadership and overall political direction to the international effort to support Libya; act as a forum for coordinating international policy on Libya; and provide a focal point in the international community for contact with the Libyan parties. Qatar has agreed to convene the first meeting of the Group which we will co-chair. Thereafter, the chairmanship will rotate between the countries of the region and beyond it.
UNSCR 1973 laid out very clear conditions that the Qadhafi regime must meet, including the establishment of an immediate ceasefire, a halt to all attacks on civilians and full humanitarian access to those in need. Participants of the conference agreed to continue their efforts until all conditions are fulfilled. The Libyan regime will be judged by its actions and not its words.
Mr Speaker, the London conference showed that we are united in our aims - seeking a Libya that does not pose a threat to its own citizens or to the region and in working with the people of Libya as they choose their own way forward to a peaceful and stable future. And it demonstrated that clear international support for the people of Libya. With that support there is every prospect of focussed and sustained assistance to the people of Libya as they seek to determine their own future.