Security fears as UN ends Libya military mandate

NTC urges continuation of Nato operations to secure border and counter loyalist attacks
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The Independent Online

The United Nations yesterday terminated its seven-month mandate authorising military action in Libya. The decision came despite a plea from the new government in Tripoli to delay the move because of concerns about the fragility of the security situation.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the governing National Transitional Council (NTC), has asked for Nato's military operations to continue and for the provision of military advisers on the ground to counter any attacks by remnants of regime forces and to secure the border.

The request came despite the declaration by the NTC on National Liberation Day last Sunday signalling the end to the war, and despite Mr Jalil failing to mention the help received from the Western coalition in securing victory. Instead, during his speech at the ceremony, he portrayed the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi as purely a triumph achieved by rebel fighters. The UN Security Council voted unanimously to suspend Resolution 1973 which set up a "no-fly zone" followed by air strikes, and this will expire on Monday. Western diplomats stressed that the mandate, to protect civilians, did not include guarding of the country's borders.

Nato pointed out, however, that member states can offer military commitment to Libya on an individual basis. In London, Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Britain's commander of joint operations, said the issue of having UK "boots on the ground" was a "policy question to be debated by the National Security Council. It's very much now governed by the Libyan government and their request to us, which is not yet clear".

Britain is currently providing mine clearance operators and, according to senior defence sources, a team to train the new Libyan forces is likely to be sent after discussions with Tripoli.

Meanwhile, the controversy has continued to surround the issue of Gaddafi's death last Thursday, but Air Marshal Peach insisted Nato did not deliberately get involved in the capture of the former leader, which took place after a convoy leaving his birthplace, Sirte, was bombed by Western aircraft. The reason for the air strikes, he said, was "that the convoy [in which Gaddafi was travelling] was firing at civilians so the action taken was totally within UN rules".

In Benghazi yesterday, the NTC said those responsible for the killing would be tried. Mahmoud Jibril, the acting prime minister, had initially claimed Gaddafi had been killed in crossfire after loyalist troops tried to rescue him. Video footage of the death, suggesting he was summarily executed, appeared to disprove this version and, following international pressure, Mr Jalil announced an investigation. There is deep scepticism in Libya that the inquiry will lead to anything meaningful. An investigation into the assassination Abdul Fateh Younis, the rebel commander in the east of the country by his own side, has been wound up without any arrests.

In Niger, an adviser to the President claimed that Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, and the former regime's intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senoussi, were seeking refuge in neighbouring Mali. "Senoussi is in Mali... he arrived yesterday," said the adviser, who is also an influential elder in the ethnic Tuareg community, where there was strong support for Gaddafi. "Saif is going to Mali too. He is right now between Niger and Algeria.

NTC officials had claimed Saif was seeking to hand himself over the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which had issued a warrant for his arrest. An ICC spokesman said the court has not received any such approach on behalf of Gaddafi's son.