What I saw in Benghazi

June 19, 2011 - 0:0

LONDON -- It has been four months since the Libyan people decided that they would no longer be denied their basic freedoms. And it has been 90 days since NATO-led operations prevented a brutal massacre in Benghazi and stopped the sort of slaughter that we witnessed in Srebrenica in 1995.

From the start, these operations have had one objective: to protect civilians from the murderous actions of the Gaddafi regime. Our actions have saved countless lives. As we mark this milestone and reflect on progress, it is clear that our action is still necessary, legal and right.
The international community is united. There are 18 countries taking part in the military operations, many of them outside NATO and in the region of North Africa and the Middle East. At the Libya Contact Group meetings more than 40 states and international organizations have recognized that Moammar Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy and must leave. Russia too is in agreement with this ever-growing international consensus, as it expressed in the Group of Eight Summit statement last month at Deauville, France.
We have been clear from the start that we will stand by the Libyan people to realize their legitimate aspirations. We have done so through military operations around Benghazi, Misrata and other Libyan towns. We have done so by increasing the economic, diplomatic and political pressure on the Gaddafi regime. The United Nations has imposed comprehensive sanctions, freezing assets, imposing travel bans, and denying Gaddafi the arms and oil needed to sustain his military campaign. Satellite channels spouting regime propaganda have been taken off the air. States are refusing to see regime envoys, diplomats siding with the regime have been expelled, and the International Criminal Court's prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for the regime's ringleaders, including Gaddafi himself. Time is against them and working for the people of Libya.
At the 90-day mark it is clear that this broad-based strategy is working, marking the beginning of the end for the Gaddafi regime. Across Libya, Gaddafi's forces are facing reversals. The terrible suffering of the people of Misrata has been relieved. In recent days, the opposition has pushed Gaddafi's followers out of the suburbs of Zawiyah and prevented the regime from retaking the crucial border crossings to Tunisia in western Libya. Gaddafi's inner circle is crumbling around him.
Following a string of high-profile ministerial defections, 10 senior military officers recently left the regime, sending the clear signal that Gaddafi can no longer count on his military. Those who care for Libya have already deserted him.
I visited Benghazi two weeks ago to meet the key figures in the opposition National Transitional Council. During my visit I saw a different Libya from the one oppressed for years by Gaddafi. I saw an alternative vision of an open, plural and democratic Libya that draws on the wealth of the country's natural resources and strength of her people. I saw a flourishing civil society born out of a desire for a better future. I heard calls and witnessed an earnest ambition for Libyans to secure across the whole of their country a new way of life free from the tyranny of secret police, bunk political philosophy and a state-directed economy. I detected the deep-seated yearning for these changes that we are seeing expressed across the Arab world, from Syria to Yemen and beyond. I saw that same Arab Spring spirit in Libya.
This spirit must not be stifled. We must intensify our efforts to ensure that it can be achieved by all Libyans. But to get there, the National Transitional Council and the Libyan people require international support. They require funding to meet basic needs. Gaddafi's state-directed economy siphoned the profits of Libya's economy into private offshore accounts now frozen by the UN Security Council's sanctions.
The security situation in the country means that the opposition cannot yet pump oil to get a sustainable stream of revenue flowing. I urge all those who want to see change in Libya to contribute to the temporary fund announced last week at the Contact Group in Abu Dhabi.
As Gaddafi's regime fractures we need to continue to crank up the pressure—militarily, economically and diplomatically. Each state and international organization brings different strengths to the campaign. NATO's role continues to be central. It is the only organization with the will and the military capacity to act.
But the NATO mission would not be possible without the unique military assets and political weight that the United States has brought to bear. From the start, the UK has taken a leading role in both the military and diplomatic campaigns in Libya. We have now added Apache attack helicopters to the list of capabilities at NATO's disposal.
The UK will continue to carry its weight militarily, as well as in leading diplomatic efforts through the Libya Contact Group, and by providing non-lethal material support to the opposition. We must all keep up the pressure and maintain our resolve to bring about the Libya that its people want and deserve.
Mr. Hague is the British foreign secretary. (Source: Wall Street Journal