NATO Chief: “We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm the people”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, March 24, 2011.

From Slobodan Lekic, the AP:  NATO’s chief said Thursday the alliance doesn’t support U.S. and British suggestions that the U.N. mandate for the international military operation in Libya allows arming rebels who are fighting Moammar Gadhafi’s troops.

NATO assumed command of all air operations over Libya early Thursday, taking over from the U.S., which had been eager to be rid of that responsibility. NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Stockholm that NATO’s position is that "we are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm the people."

Britain and the U.S. believe that existing U.N. Security Council resolutions on Libya could allow for foreign governments to arm the rebels, despite an arms embargo being in place.

The NATO secretary-general said he has "taken note of the ongoing discussions in a number of countries but as far as NATO is concerned … we will focus on the enforcement of the arms embargo. …"

Asked where NATO is now that the rebels are being pushed back, Fogh Rasmussen answered, "We are there. We are there to take action with the aim to protect civilians against any attack."

"And if and when our military commanders feel that civilians are threatened then they will take, as is stated in the U.N resolution, take all necessary measures to protect civilians against such attacks," he said.  (from the AP)

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