Splits emerge over Libya operation

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Just days after Norwegian politicians displayed rare, unified support for the government’s decision to back UN-approved military intervention in Libya, criticism is rising within the Socialist Left party. Defense Minister Grete Faremo, meanwhile, was keeping Norway’s F16 jets parked on Crete until leadership of the UN-backed military operation was resolved.

Defense Minister Grete Faremo, shown here at a press conference last year, won't send Norway's fighter jets to Libya until the leadership of the UN-backed mission is clarified. PHOTO: Forsvaret

The six fighter jets that took off from their Norwegian bases on Monday headed for a new base on Crete. There they will wait, Faremo told reporters after they were airborne, until the Norwegian military knows and is comfortable with who will actually have command over the operation.

“It is critical that we get in place an effective command system that will give us adequate insight into the decision-making process, the mandate and rules for the operation,” Faremo told news bureau NTB. This is important, she said, because Norwegian military force shall remain under national control.

The challenge facing those involved in the UN-backed military action, aimed at protecting Libyan civilians from Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, is to agree on leadership. The French launched the attacks and the US reluctantly took on a preliminary leadership role as well, but has made it clear it does not want to keep it. While calls are being made for NATO to take over, not all NATO member nations support the assaults on Libya. The German government, for example, is under heavy criticism both domestically and internationally for “isolating” itself by choosing to remain on the sidelines of the operation that it did not veto.

Norway has close ties to Germany, and the Norwegian government so far hasn’t directly criticized its German allies, at least not publicly. Svein Melbye, leader of the Institute for Defense Studies in Norway, told newspaper Aftenposten that he thinks it will be difficult to continue the operation without the US having more than a support function. Ståle Ulrichsen of the foreign policy research institute NUPI said he thinks France will take over leadership, with Great Britain as next in command.

Debate flares among the socialists
Meanwhile, the participation of Norwegian military personnel in a military operation in Libya has sparked debate within the Socialist Left party (SV). Even though SV is a member of the government coalition that immediately backed the UN resolution, two of its top officials criticized Norway’s involvement because of concerns over how the mandate to protect Libyan civilians is being followed up.

“Norway can’t, under any circumstances, contribute to a military operation that has a goal of removing Gadhafi’s dictatorship through use of foreign armed force,” claimed a measure approved by SV’s socialist commission SU. SU claimed it did support the UN resolution, but “we are afraid (it) will lead to a lengthy war,” said SU leader Olav Magnus Linge. “We all want Gadhafi to go to hell, but not with western bomber jets.”

“What is the goal here,” queried his party colleague Ivar Johansen. “To protect civilians or to remove a hopeless dictator? There are many dictators, but you can’t go loose against all of them.”

Another influential party official, though, Petter Eide, fully supports the government’s decision to take an active role in backing the UN resolution. Eide, a former secretary general of humanitarian groups like Amnesty Norge, CARE Norge and Norwegian People’s Aid, called the situation in Libya “critical” and said he thinks “we should celebrate when the UN Security Council for the first time in history managed to agree on a resolution.”

Norwegian investments on the line
There’s also been debate over Norway’s business interests in Libya. State-controlled oil firm Statoil and fertilizer company Yara both have conducted major operations in Libya, in cooperation with Gadhafi’s regime.

Statoil and Yara ceased activity and evacuated personnel after the uprising against Gadhafi began last month, but now Statoil is among international firms being threatened with loss of their contract (and billions in investment) if they don’t restart operations soon. Statoil is a partner in two oil fields in Libya, along with Total of France and Repsol of Spain.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said the government won’t order Statoil to pull out of Libya, unless the UN imposes sanctions against Libya. Statoil officials, who paid Libyan workers in advance and told them they didn’t need to come to work, declined to comment on what Statoil will do, noting that Statoil is merely a partner in the Libyan oil fields and not their operator.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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