West Faces Hard Choices On Way Forward In Libya

Analysts said NATO may have to intensify attacks on government forces to break the military stalemate in the North African country, while plans to help the rebels earn revenue from its oil riches are bogged down by U.N. sanctions.

The United Nations meanwhile is making slow progress in its efforts to ease the plight of civilians trapped in the conflict.

Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed in the seven-week siege of the port city of Misrata and thousands of foreign migrant workers are stranded there.

A rebel spokesman said at least 31 people had been killed there on Sunday and Monday by government shelling and snipers.

Nine weeks after the rebellion broke out, inspired by uprisings against autocratic rulers elsewhere in the Arab world, the insurgents control the east of the country from their Benghazi stronghold, but little territory in the west — principally parts of Misrata, Libya’s third city.

NATO bombing has damaged Gaddafi’s armour but not enough to break the stalemate, and the alliance may have no choice but to use naval gunfire or helicopters, analysts said.

The U.S., British and French leaders said last week they would not stop military action until Gaddafi quit.

“They’ve boxed themselves in by describing victory as Gaddafi leaving,” said Daniel Keohane of the EU Institute for Security Studies think tank. “I don’t think there’s any way they can walk away now. There’s a political imperative to carry on.”

Rebel plans to sell oil from territories they control are running into problems due to U.N. sanctions, envoys and analysts say.

LEGAL DOUBTS

Western powers are eager to help Libyan rebels sell the crude to fill their coffers. But without definitive guidance on the legal status of Libyan oil from the politically divided U.N. sanctions committee, U.N. diplomats and traders say the oil could remain virtually untouchable.

U.N. diplomats told Reuters that Security Council members eager to escalate the diplomatic pressure on Gaddafi’s government — above all France and Britain — rushed through the two packages of sanctions, and may not have foreseen how difficult the U.N. measures would make it to aid the rebels.

“I don’t think they realised the complications the sanctions would create, and now they’re trying to backtrack on the question of selling oil and on the arms embargo,” a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

One of the ideas being floated, diplomats said, was to exempt Arabian Gulf Oil Co (Agoco), a subsidiary of the Libyan National Oil Corp based in rebel areas, from the sanctions. But no delegation has formally proposed it to the committee.

Russia, China, India, Brazil and Germany all abstained during the Security Council vote to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and authorise military action to protect civilians.

Since then, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — all council members — have become increasingly critical of NATO actions, which they say are helping the rebels, not civilians. Reuters