EU wary of imposing sanctions on Libyan dictator

EUobserver
By Valentina Pop
February 24, 2011

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The EU has refrained from imposing immediate sanctions against Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi but has called for a stop to the use of force on civilians. Thousands of Europeans are trying to leave the country, with Gaddafi losing control.

A joint EU communique agreed by member states’ ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday (23 February) condemned the “unacceptable use of force against civilians” and said the bloc “is ready to take further measures” if need be.

Future sanctions options include a visa ban, an arms embargo and an asset freeze on the Gaddafi family and senior officials.

France had called for immediate sanctions going into the EU meeting, along with Finland and Germany. But some member states are not convinced that imposing sanctions at this time will help to prevent further atrocities against protesters or contribute to getting EU citizens out.

The increasingly erratic Libyan dictator on Tuesday night pledged to wage war against the demonstrators. The threat came as Gaddafi began to lose his grip on the eastern, petro-rich part of the country.

The European Commission on Wednesday also triggered a protocol to help EU states share information and resources on the evacuation effort.

“Thousands of EU citizens are struggling to evacuate from Libya under extremely difficult circumstances. It is our duty to live up to this challenge of facilitating the evacuations,” aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.

She described Colonel Gaddafi as “not a rational interlocutor”.

The EU has painful experience of the Libyan dictator using EU and Swiss citizens as hostages. In one scenario, Libyan authorities sentenced to death five Bulgarian nurses wrongly accused of spreading HIV. They were released in 2007 after eight years of intricate diplomacy. Libya more recently arrested a group of Swiss businessmen in revenge for a petty incident involving the Swiss police and one of Gaddafi’s sons.

Italy is the most vehement anti-sanctions EU country.

Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi is friends with Gaddafi, even sharing his appetite for young women. Italy also has major oil, gas and arms interests in Libya and it fears a “biblical exodus” of hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants and refugees if Gaddafi snaps.

The head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, on Wednesday made an implicit criticism of Italian policy.

“This question of migration, or of illegal migration, or even of refugees, is sometimes used as a way of not supporting democracy and I do not agree with that,” he said after meeting a top UN human rights official in the EU capital.

EU border agency chief Ilka Laitinen also avoided Italy’s alarming rhetoric on the issue. “We have all sorts of scenarios and contingency plans, but it is not wise to speculate [on numbers of migrants],” he told press the same day.

Meanwhile, selected human rights groups at the UN in Geneva have criticised the EU for its “disappointing” position ahead of talks UN on Friday.

“We appreciate that the EU incorporated our requests for an international investigation and for keeping the issue on the council’s agenda in the upcoming March and June sessions. Yet the draft unacceptably falls short of condemning Moammar Gaddafi, and fails to call for Libya’s removal from the council,” said Hillel Neuer from UN Watch.

Urging Ms Ashton and the leaders of France, Germany and the UK, to “remedy these glaring omissions,” the NGO noted that even the Arab League has expelled Libya at his stae .

“With bodies piling up on the streets of Libya, the EU and the international community must not stay silent on this pernicious moral hypocrisy,” UN Watch said

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