France, Italy, UK sending military advisers to Libya; photojournalists killed in Misrata

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

La Russa in 2007.
Image: G.dallorto.

France and Italy have announced along with the United Kingdom that they will be sending military advisers to help Libyan rebels in their fight against the forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Italian Minister for Defence Ignazio La Russa said Wednesday that his country will send ten instructors. French officials said they would send fewer than ten. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said they would send a team that could possibly contain up to twenty advisers.

La Russa said in a news conference that the advisers' roles had yet to be determined, "They won't be on the battlefield. They'll be mentors, they won't accompany them. Training is one thing, participation another."

He further said of the rebels, "They're rich in enthusiasm, they want to fight for liberty, but naturally they are poor in experience and arms." However, La Russa believes that not all the arms the rebels have were taken from the Libyan Army stockpiles, stating, "I don't think they only have arms from the Gaddafi army. Some help arrived." He did not elaborate on the final statement.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials say President Barack Obama's administration plans to give the Libyan opposition $25 million in non-lethal assistance. The officials say the assistance could include items such as vehicles, fuel trucks, protective vests and non-secure radios.

Libyan rebels on the outskirts of Brega on March 10, 2011.
Image: VOA - Phil Ittner.
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

Libya's foreign minister, Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, criticized the dispatch of foreign military advisers, saying it will harm chances for peace in the country. In an interview with the BBC, Obeidi called for a ceasefire followed by a six month period to prepare for an election. "We think any military presence is a step backwards, and we are sure that if this bombing stopped and there is a real ceasefire we could have a dialogue among all Libyans about what they want — democracy, political reform, constitution, election. This could not be done with what is going on now," said Obeidi.

The move comes as UN officials condemn the use of cluster bombs that are in use by pro-Gaddaffi forces, a tactic banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, of which Libya is not a signatory.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated, amidst reports of snipers attacking civilians in many towns, that use of such munitions would "inevitably lead to civilian casualties", whilst also calling for NATO forces to "exercise the utmost caution and vigilance so as not to kill civilians by mistake". Pillay praised the Libyan government for allowing on Monday a U.N. humanitarian base in the capital city of Tripoli.

Meanwhile, fighting has continued between rebel and pro-government forces this Wednesday in the besieged western port city of Misrata, where residents are pleading for international intervention.

British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who co-directed the documentary film Restrepo, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature this year, died from wounds he suffered in an RPG attack in the city.

In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.

—Tim Hetherington's last tweet

His colleagues, photographers Chris Hondros and Guy Martin were also severely wounded. Hondros suffered a severe brain injury leaving him in a critical condition and eventually succumbed to his injury at a triage center and Martin, a British citizen, was injured by shrapnel, and is now receiving vascular surgery. Another with the group, Michael Christopher Brown also received shrapnel wounds which were not life-threatening.

Hetherington last updated his Twitter account on Tuesday, which read, "In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO."

Leaders in the rebel-held city called for the urgent intervention of foreign ground troops to protect the 500,000 civilians there, the first such request by anyone among Libya's opposition forces. The rebels' civilian leadership, the Transitional National Council, has however rejected the presence of foreign troops on Libyan soil to help their cause.

Meanwhile, across the country, NATO airstrikes again struck government installations in several cities.