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Libyan rebels support having Western troops help evacuate civilians

A spokesman says the rebels are not asking foreigners to fight side by side with them. France and Italy say they'll join Britain in sending military advisors to Libya.

April 20, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
  • Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting in downtown Misurata.
Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government… (Chris Hondros / Getty Images )

Reporting from Benghazi, Libya — Libyan rebels said Wednesday that they support Western forces assisting in the evacuation of civilians and other humanitarian missions despite their objections to foreign troops on the battlefield.

"In order to protect, to have a safe zone for any refugees, it has to obviously be protected from the ground and air and sea," said Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a spokesman for the Transitional National Council, the rebel movement's political wing. "We certainly don't have the means to do that."

He made his comments as France and Italy officially joined Britain in deciding to send military liaisons to Libya. Representatives of all three nations insisted that the liaisons' role would be advisory only and fall within the terms of the United Nations' resolution protecting Libyan civilians.

Nonetheless, the increased presence of European military personnel in Libya, along with the prospect of allied troops deployed to protect humanitarian missions, raised concerns that the war could be headed toward a new phase of enhanced foreign intervention.

In Paris, presidential spokesman Francois Baroin said the additional French officers in Libya were meant to "organize the protection of the civilian population" and would be complemented with more airstrikes. But the officers are not to engage in battles on the ground, he said.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe has said he is "hostile to the deployment of troops on the ground."

Italy plans to send 10 military advisors, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said Wednesday after meeting in Rome with British Defense Minister Liam Fox. Britain has said about a dozen officers would be dispatched to Libya.

Libyan rebel chiefs have been making the rounds in Europe seeking additional help in their bid to oust Moammar Kadafi, who has ruled the country for more than 40 years. Rebels now claim control of much of eastern Libya, while Kadafi controls most of the west, including the capital, Tripoli.

In the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi, officials said Wednesday that any humanitarian mission to safeguard civilians would require foreign troops. Rebels say tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in Misurata and other besieged cities in the west, where the Tripoli government has moved forcibly to put down anti-Kadafi rebellions.

Seven rebels, a Ukrainian doctor and two foreign photojournalists were killed in Misurata on Wednesday and about 120 people were wounded.

"In order for them to create a safe zone, it has to be military," said Abdulmolah, the rebel council spokesman. "We have no problem with that. This is not a military force that is coming to fight by our side. There's a difference. We are not asking for military boots on the ground."

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Times staff writer Janet Stobart in London and special correspondent Devorah Lauter in Paris contributed to this report.

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