Saturday, June 4, 2011

Combat helicopters enter Libya fray

ATTACK helicopters have struck Muammar Gaddafi's forces, as China acknowledged contact with rebels fighting to oust the Libyan leader and Russia prepared to send an envoy to broker a truce.

As the NATO-led war entered a new phase, explosions rattled Tripoli early yesterday and US lawmakers chided President Barack Obama for failing to obtain congressional approval for military action in Libya.

''Attack helicopters under NATO command were used for the first time on 4 June, 2011, in military operations over Libya as part of Operation Unified Protector,'' the military alliance said in a statement.
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''The targets struck included military vehicles, military equipment and fielded forces'' of the Gaddafi regime, said the statement, without detailing where the strikes had taken place.

NATO said it deployed British Apache choppers and French Tigers in the attacks launched as part of the aerial campaign to protect Libyan civilians from Colonel Gaddafi's forces in line with a UN resolution that barred ground troops.

''The use of attack helicopters provides the NATO operation with additional flexibility to track and engage pro-Gaddafi forces who deliberately target civilians and attempt to hide in populated areas,'' said a NATO statement.

On the diplomatic front, China acknowledged for the first time contact with Libya's rebels as Russia prepared to send an envoy to help mediate a settlement to the conflict.

China, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, said its ambassador to Qatar, Zhang Zhiliang, held talks with Mustafa Abdul Jalil of the Libyan rebel National Transitional Council in recent days to discuss the conflict in the oil-rich nation.

''The two sides exchanged views on the Libyan situation,'' Beijing's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said.

''China's position on the Libyan issue is clear - we hope that the Libyan crisis can be resolved through political means and that the future of Libya is decided by the Libyan people."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would send an envoy to Tripoli and the rebels' capital of Benghazi to mediate, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Since February, Colonel Gaddafi's forces have been embroiled in a battle with rebels looking to put an end to his more than four decades in power.

The US House of Representatives, meanwhile, approved a vote that rebuked President Obama for maintaining a role in the NATO mission while ignoring Congress, but stopped short of calling for an end to the mission.

The measure calls for a report from the White House within 14 days,continue:

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