Saturday 20 January 2018

Libyan air space 'under control'

The French Air Force pilot of a Rafale jet fighter returns from a mission in Libya. Photo: AP
The French Air Force pilot of a Rafale jet fighter returns from a mission in Libya. Photo: AP

France has declared Libya's air space "under control" after Nato agreed to take command of the no-fly zone.

British and French planes struck overnight against an artillery battery and armoured vehicles outside the strategic eastern gateway city of Ajdabiya.

The operation was intended to give a measure of relief to residents who have fled more than a week of shelling and fighting between rebels and troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

Explosions also could be heard in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, before daybreak, apparently from air strikes.

"Libyan air space is under control, and we proved it ... because a Libyan plane in the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces, which had just taken off from Misrata in order to bomb Misrata, was destroyed by a French Rafale," Admiral Edouard Guillaud said on France-Info radio.

The compromise which places Nato in charge of clearing the skies leaves the US responsible for the more difficult task of planning attacks on Gaddafi's ground forces and other targets.

Libya's government has taken part of its fight to the airwaves. On Thursday, state television aired pictures of bodies it said were victims of air strikes, but a US intelligence report bolstered rebel claims that Gaddafi's forces had simply taken bodies from a morgue.

International military support for the rebels is not open-ended: French foreign minister Alain Juppe on Thursday set a time frame on the international action at days or weeks - not months.

Representatives for the regime and rebels were expected to attend an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who described it as a part of an effort to reach a ceasefire and a political solution.

The US has been trying to give up the lead role in the operation against Gaddafi's forces, and Nato agreed late on Thursday to assume one element of it - control of the no-fly zone. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United Arab Emirates would deploy 12 planes for the coalition effort. She thanked the UAE for becoming the second Arab country after Qatar to send planes, with patrols involving them set to take place by this weekend.

Press Association

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