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France expels 14 Libyan diplomats

France today expelled 14 Libyan diplomats loyal to the government of Muammar Gaddafi as Amnesty International said Libyan forces could be guilty of war crimes in the besieged city of Misrata.

world Updated: May 06, 2011 21:52 IST

France on Friday expelled 14 Libyan diplomats loyal to the government of Muammar Gaddafi as Amnesty International said Libyan forces could be guilty of war crimes in the besieged city of Misrata.

France, the United States, Britain and others are trying to go beyond a NATO bombing campaign against troops loyal to Gaddafi to find other ways of helping an uprising that prised eastern Libya from his control, but then stalled.

The bombing and imposition of a no-fly zone, both intended to protect civilians, have not prevented scores being killed in government attacks on remaining pockets of rebellion in western Libya, notably the besieged cities of Misrata and Zintan. Amnesty International said indiscriminate attacks on Misrata, including the use of snipers, cluster bombs and artillery in civilian areas, might amount to war crimes.

"The scale of the relentless attacks that we have seen by al-Gaddafi forces to intimidate the residents of Misrata for more than two months is truly horrifying," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's senior adviser in Libya. "It shows a total disregard for the lives of ordinary people and is in clear breach of international humanitarian law."

Life and death operation

The International Organisation for Migration evacuated 1,100 people from Misrata by ship on Wednesday under government shelling that killed five people.

In Geneva, IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya spoke of "a life and death operation where every single minute counted". She told reporters the IOM was now acutely worried about tens of thousands of destitute Chadians.

"The group that we are particularly concerned about are an estimated 40,000 Chadians in the southern Libyan town of Gatroun, believed to be mostly women and children and reported to be in a desperate and pitiful condition," she said. "People are telling us that these migrants have no food, water, shelter or sanitation ... Our fear is that, after many weeks like this and in these kind of temperatures, they will not be able to survive for much longer."

A French diplomatic source said the decision to expel the 14 Libyan diplomats had been taken some time ago, "but there was a process to follow". "Many of these people were using their status as diplomats as a cover," said the source, who declined to be named.

A coalition of western and Arab countries agreed on Thursday to provide Libya's eastern rebels, based in Benghazi, with millions of dollars in non-military aid to help them keep services and the economy running as well as try to topple Gaddafi, in power since 1969.

The rebel Transitional National Council has said it needs up to $3 billion to keep going in the coming months, and the UN World Food Programme said on Thursday that Libya's food supplies could run out in six to eight weeks, particularly in the east.

At Thursday's Libya Contact Group meeting in Rome, Kuwait pledged $180 million and Qatar promised $400-500 million to the rebels.

A US official said the administration was considering unblocking more than $150 million for humanitarian purposes. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Washington would try to change the law to unlock some of the $30 billion of Libyan state funds frozen in the United States to help the rebels.

The Contact Group meeting brought together foreign ministers from more than 20 countries as well as representatives of the Arab League and the African Union.

Russian warning

On Friday Russia warned the group not to try to eclipse the authority of the UN Security Council, which has imposed sanctions on Libya and authorised the use of force specifically to protect civilians. These sanctions prevent the rebels as well as the government raising money by selling oil on international markets.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the group was trying to "take on the leading role in determining the policy of the international community in relation to Libya", and that the international community should be concerned with stopping the fighting, not taking sides.

The insurgents trying to topple Gaddafi after 41 years in power had hoped for a swift victory, akin to the overthrow of the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia by popular uprisings. But his better-equipped forces halted the rebels' westward advance from Benghazi and the front line is now largely static.

NATO said its aircraft had conducted 57 strike missions on Thursday, attacking ammunition stores, tanks, armoured vehicles, rocket launchers and a communications facility in or around Zintan, Sirte, Brega, Mizdah, Misrata and Ras Lanuf.

Libyan state television said NATO planes had bombed Mizdah, 190 km south of Tripoli during Friday prayers and hit "civilian and military targets".