Correspondents * – IPS/Al Jazeera
HAVANA TIMES, March 18 (IPS) — Libya’s government has announced it will halt all military operations in the country hours after the United Nations Security Council backed a no-fly zone over the country.
Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign secretary, said his government was interested in protecting all civilians and foreigners, in a statement televised on Friday.
“We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations,” he said, adding “[Libya] takes great interest in protecting civilians”.
Koussa said because his country was a member of the United Nations it is “obliged to accept to U.N. Security Council’s resolutions”.
But Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Tripoli, said the statement was “very carefully crafted … very deliberate, almost forensic”.
“Clearly the Libyans have been poring over their United Nations charters to decide which bits to disagree with and on the whole they can’t find very much.”
“My hunch is that it is an effort to buy time because the Libyans I think have been taken completely by surprise by this sudden resurgence of an [international] consensus on action.”
The latest announcement contrasted with earlier comments by Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s leader, who warned residents of Benghazi , the eastern rebel stronghold, that his forces would show “no mercy” in an impending assault on the city.
“We will track them [fighters] down, and search for them, alley by alley, road by road … Massive waves of people will be crawling out to rescue the people of Benghazi, who are calling out for help, asking us to rescue them. We should come to their rescue,” he said in a radio address on Thursday.
Britain and France ‘cautious’
Tony Birtley, Al Jazeera’s reporter in Benghazi, said pro-democracy fighters there were positive but cautious about the ceasefire.
France also said it was remaining wary.
“We have to be very cautious. He [Gaddafi] is now starting to be afraid, but on the ground the threat has not changed,” Bernard Valero, foreign ministry spokesman told the Reuters news agency.
David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, responded to the ceasefire saying Gaddafi would be judged by “his actions not his words”.
“What is absolutely clear is the UN Security Council resolution said he must stop what he is doing, brutalizing his people.
“If not, all necessary measures can follow to make him stop,” he told the BBC.
“That is what we agreed last night, that is what we are preparing for and we’ll judge him by what he does.”
Earlier Cameron said Britain was about to start sending fighter jets and surveillance aircraft to military bases in the Mediterranean in preparation for a no-fly zone.
Speaking to parliament he said Tornado and Typhoon jets would be deployed imminently along with surveillance and re-fuelling planes.
“Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can start to take the necessary action,” he said.
The U.N. Security Council backed a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians late on Thursday.
The intervention, which is expected to be enforced by Britain, France, the US, Norway and Qatar, bans military aircraft from flying in Libyan airspace, but not commercial or humanitarian flights.
Paul Brennan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in London, said the military preparations by international forces were going to continue regardless of Koussa’s announcement.
“It could make it more difficult to actually launch attacks, but from the idea of preparation I don’t think it’s going to deflect the coalition forces at all.
“What they need to do at this early stage is get the forces into position so they can enforce a no-fly zone as authorized by the U.N. Security Council.
“They’ll decide at some point whether they attack any forces on the ground and that will depend largely on what Gaddafi’s forces are doing.”
Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic agency, said earlier the Libyan government had closed its airspace to all traffic in response to the U.N. resolution.
* Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.