The US State Department has called on Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi to step down, saying he had lost legitimacy when he turned guns on his own people.
US State Department spokesman Mark C Toner spoke to journalists in South Asia via an audio link on Friday, saying an unfolding humanitarian crisis in eastern Libya had been averted by quick and decisive action. “We call on Qaddafi to step down,” Toner said, but added that the current Nato-led air strikes were not to bring about a regime change but to protect Libyan civilians.
“UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is not about Qaddafi leaving power. It is about direct humanitarian assistance and relief and protection of civilians who are under attack in eastern Libya,” Toner stressed, but added: “We are going to seek to bring pressure on Qaddafi and we’ve done that already.”
When asked by The Express Tribune if sanctions or ground troops were on the cards, Toner said an arms embargo was already in place and Nato was allowed to board ships and ensure that Qaddafi’s arms supply was also cut down.
“The goal is to completely isolate him until his only choice is a stark one; that he steps down from power and allows a peaceful transition to take place,” Toner said.
Toner said the situation remained fluid in Libya but an emerging opposition in Libya was increasingly more coherent. “We need to understand their needs and their aspirations,” Toner said, adding that it was up to the Libyans to decide.
He repeatedly stressed that the enforcement of a no-fly zone over eastern Libya had averted a humanitarian crisis, especially in the eastern city of Benghazi, where, Toner said, 700,000 civilians had been warned by Qaddafi in an edict that they would receive “no mercy.”
Toner said he was not aware of any confirmed civilian casualties in the air strikes by coalition forces, adding he was aware of the Libyan regime’s claims in this regard.
The State Department spokesman said the US acted in concert with key allies and a transition to a broader coalition with Arab participation was underway, with the UAE sending in 12 planes to enforce the no-fly zone.
“We have a strong coalition. It’s an international effort in which Nato has command and control capability and has taken control,” Toner said, adding that support for UNSC Resolution 1973 came after a plea from the Arab League. “It’s up to each country what role they want to play,” he said.