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18 March 2011

Libya declares ceasefire

Foreign minister says an immediate ceasefire will be imposed after UN backs no-fly zone.

By Samira Shackle

The Libyan foreign minister, Mousa Kousa, has told reporters that Libya will impose “an immediate ceasefire and stoppage of all military operations” against rebel forces.

Speaking to reporters in Tripoli, he said that the country will abide by yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution calling for a no-fly zone and a ceasefire.

Kousa was critical of the “unreasonable” UN resolution, which allows the use of military power. “This goes clearly against the UN Charter, and it is a violation of the national sovereignty of Libya,” he said.

He said Libya would “try to deal positively” with the resolution, and that a no-fly zone would “increase the suffering of Libyan people and will have negative impact on the general life of the Libyan people”, as it will affect civilian as well as military flights.

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This professed concern for civilians is a significant change in rhetoric from the Libyan regime. Just last night, Muammar al-Gaddafi warned that “no mercy” would be shown to the people of Benghazi.

It is far too early to tell how long a ceasefire will last, and whether this is a genuine laying down of arms or merely a strategic move to buy time. Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, told Sky News: “I think he has taken a step that no one foresaw. It is very difficult to read Gaddafi’s mind but I think he sees this as a way of holding back the military attack.”

The next important thing to watch is the terms of the ceasefire and how it will be monitored: it is highly unlikely that the regime will allow rebel groups in Benghazi to continue with impunity, ceasefire or not. Will the UN be allowed into Libya for monitoring purposes? It’s worth noting that Kousa refused to answer any questions after his announcement.

If it comes to it, it will not be difficult for Gaddafi to ramp up the violence again.