Press briefing on Libya
by NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu and Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, Commander of the Operation Unified Protector
Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon, welcome back to NATO; and welcome to everyone in Naples. We expect to welcome Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, Commander of Operation Unified Protector in a few minutes.
It is now 90 days since NATO launched Operation Unified Protector under the mandate of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. That historic resolution mandates the use of all necessary means to protect civilians in Libya.
The arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court yesterday for Qadhafi and his two closest aides on suspicion of crimes against humanity show exactly why that resolution was necessary; why NATO decided to act; and why NATO will keep up the pressure until that mandate is fulfilled.
The arrest warrants are yet another signal from the international community to the Qadhafi regime. Your place is on trial; not in power, in Tripoli.
It is not for NATO to enforce that warrant. That is for the appropriate authorities. Our mandate is to protect civilians from attack. The decision of all NATO allies and partners to extend our operation for another 90 days from today is a clear signal of that determination. Now, this is the military track where NATO foreign ministers have set out three clear goals: an end to all attacks against civilians; the withdrawal to their barracks and bases of all of Qadhafi's military and paramilitary forces; and full and unimpeded humanitarian access.
There is of course the second parallel, political track where the United Nations and the contact group are in the lead. NATO is part of that broad international effort to reach a solution to the crisis. But we have made clear from the start that there is no purely military solution. It's the combination of our continued military pressure and a reinforced political pressure that will bring about the transition to democracy that the Libyan people demand and deserve. And with that, I hand over to General Bouchard in Naples. General, the floor is yours.
General Charles Bouchard (Commander of the Operation Unified Protector): Thank you very much Oana. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome. As Oana rightly mentioned we are going through our 90th day of operations under the NATO mandate. And progress has been significant throughout this campaign. As we take a look at it, starting in the East, Benghazi is now seeing signs of normalcy. Diplomacy is taking place. And the markets are reopened. And we are moving towards a stable environment. In the area of Ajdabiya, just to the East, approximately 80 kilometres for the town of Brega, is the town of Ajdabiya. And that too continues to stabilize.
In the early days of this campaign, up to 70% of the population had left the city. And today, we estimate that around 70% of the population has returned back to Ajdabiya. There remains a significant size force in the Brega area under the regime control. And we maintain an eye on this. We have conducted some operations over the last few days. And we continue our effort in this area to ensure that they will not advance and cause more harm to the population.
Further to the west, in the Mişrātah area, we have moved from the port. The population has been able to move forward from the port. And in fact, the line are now located around the Dafiniyah and Zlitan in the East and approximately 50 kilometres to the South.
It's interesting to note that between Zlitan and Dafiniyah the regime forces have placed around 300 civilians between the pro-Qadhafi and anti-Qadhafi forces, further proving the point that the regime continues to use civilians to shield themselves against any operations. This makes our mission more difficult but certainly not impossible as we continue to attack the forces. In the west, we are seeing very good successes from the anti-Qadhafi forces and we've seen the violence in the Town of Yafran and Zlitan have stopped. There remain some activities in the Nalut area, namely indiscriminate shelling. And we continue to hunt for those artillery pieces that are inflicting harm on civilian population.
In Tripoli, the situation remains very tense. We have reports of the... We have reports that the population has tried at some places to show some demonstrations against the regime. But these demonstrations have been very severely put down by a very repressive security force. And this continues. And we have continued reports that the population and casualties are being taken by regime forces, security forces who continue to inflict pain and harm on the population.
Overall, we have been able to restore normalcy in the East. We continue to support the Mişrātah area. And in the West, we are seeing significant success in ensuring that pro- Qadhafi forces do not bring harm to the population. I think at this stage if I was to put plainly our successes in Libya, I think the next slide would give you an idea of what it is. Next slide please.
Could I have the thank you slide please? This, you will look on the road itself. There's a checkpoint on the left hand side of the slides and slightly to the right, on the road are the letter TNX NATO: Thank you NATO. And this is the feedback we're receiving in another area of Libya.
Next slide please. You can see clearly the message that we're receiving, the feedback. And finally this last one on a roof top, where the words "thank you" are being written. And this is the feedback we are receiving from the population and the appreciation of our work that we're doing.
We remain committed to this mission. And we continue our effort to ensure that the population will not suffer from the illegal activities and immoral activities of this regime. The International Court decision yesterday as rightly pointed out only shows that will of the nations not to accept the kind of violence that this individual is causing and his group is causing on the population. He has lost moral authority to command his country. And we remain committed to bringing in peace in Libya and to provide an environment where diplomacy can take place and the people of Libya can decide for themselves their future. Thank you very much. We'll go to questions.
Oana Lungescu: And we'll start in Brussels if there are any questions here. Associated Press.
Q: Slobo Lekić from the Associated Press. General, since there's very little evidence that Qadhafi's forces have actually been committing crimes against civilians in recent weeks would it be appropriate for NATO to scale down its attacks or maybe suspend its attacks in order to give diplomacy a chance to perhaps resolve this conflict?
General Charles Bouchard: First of all, I do not necessarily share your view that the violence has stopped against the population. Shelling in Mişrātah continues, shelling in Nalut continues. And forces are continually being built up in the Brega area which shows a great potential for harm to come to the population. And based on this conclusion, no, I do not believe that any scaling down of operation is appropriate nor required at this time. In fact, we stay the course. This is a campaign. This is a campaign that began very clearly to bring immediate stop in the East to stabilize Mişrātah. And we are continuing our effort at this time to ensure that all of Libya... all of the people of Libya can live without the fear of harm from the regime forces.
Oana Lungescu: I think we can go over to you in Naples for any further questions.
Unidentified (Moderator): Yes, do we have one question. It appears no questions here, Oana.
Oana Lungescu: (Inaudible) Well that I think then makes the point very clearly. Thank you very much indeed. And we'll continue to keep you up to date with this operation. And thank you very much Lieutenant General Bouchard for being with us today from Naples. Thank you.
General Charles Bouchard: We have a question coming in from a member of the audience here if you'll allow.
Unidentified (Moderator): And can you allow the question to come through and then translated afterward, so it's one question and not broken please. Please proceed.
Q: In response to the warrant, the foreign minister of Affairs of Libya left in his comments: little space for cooperation. Do you think that this will modify the way that you will intervene in the future... in the country?
General Charles Bouchard: For your question, no, it will not. Our campaign stays the course until we have brought all violence or threat of violence against the population. Our directions following the Lisbon Summit from NATO are very clear: the removal of all forces from built-up areas; the cessation of all violence against the population and the allowance of... the enabling of movement of humanitarian assistance. These are the objectives that have been given to us by NATO. And we'll continue our mission without pause until we have reached those objectives. Thank you. OK, thank you very much everyone. And have a good day.
Oana Lungescu: Another question here in Brussels if you allow.
Unidentified: Please go.
Oana Lungescu: Sorry about that. People are rather slow with their questions today. But we do have Belga, the Belgium News Agency. Last question.
Q: Gérard Gaudin from the Belgium News Agency. Yes, in your introductory statement, you seem to take side... the side of the rebels, saying that we have stopped the Qadhafi forces advance against... so on. So is that... is that in the mandate that was given to you?
General Charles Bouchard: Perhaps my comments have been misunderstood, and let me make myself perfectly clear, the only people that are causing violence against the population are pro-Qadhafi forces. These are the forces that we will bring to an end. Ours is not to support any anti-Qadhafi advance, but rather to bring an end to the violence against the population. And that is what we are doing. Thank you very much. I have to go back. So have a good day.
Oana Lungescu: Indeed. Thank you everyone in Naples and in Brussels.