TRIPOLI, April 20 (Xinhua) — Libya Tuesday pledged to fight any foreign ground troops landing on its soil, while Western powers boosted the Libyan opposition in an attempt to seek a quicker solution to the current crisis.
The European Union has drawn up a “concept of operations” that could include sending European troops to the besieged Libyan city of Misrata to protect aid deliveries if approved by the United Nations, although UN officials said they want to explore civilian options first.
The Libyan government firmly rebuffed the EU proposal, saying it would fight any foreign troops that entered Libya, even if they were supposedly to escort humanitarian aid convoys.
Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, is surrounded on all sides by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who pounded the city with rockets, artillery, and shells on a daily basis.
Forces loyal to Gaddafi continued the bombardment of Misrata, causing a number of casualties.
Marixie Mercado of the UN children’s fund UNICEF appealed for a cease-fire in Misrata, saying at least 20 children had been killed in conflicts in the city over the past 50 days of besiegement.
Libya’s official TV said NATO bombers attacked the towns of al-Aziziyah and Sirte and the capital Tripoli.
NATO said its aircraft bombed command and control facilities of Gaddafi’s forces on Monday night.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he was “totally hostile” to the idea of deploying ground forces to Libya, stressing it was the responsibility of the rebels to guide NATO bombards against Gaddafi.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini met Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council (TNC) chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil to discuss ways of ending the Libyan conflict.
Frattini invited other countries to acknowledge the TNC. Currently, only France, Qatar and Italy have recognized the Libyan rebels.
Jalil said NATO air raids were not enough to end the crisis and demanded Libyan assets be freed and employed to provide people with food and medicine.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced assistance to the TNC and the expansion of the British diplomatic team in Benghazi.
“We have in recent weeks decided to supply the TNC with non-lethal assistance in order to assist them in protecting civilians, including telecommunications equipment and protective body armor,” he said.
Hague also said the country is sending a group of military officers to Libya to advise rebel forces.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner, however, said despite Britain’s dispatch of military officers, it doesn’t “necessarily” mean the United States will “follow suit.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet TNC chief Jalil Wednesday at the Elysee Palace.
The Spanish Congress voted to extend the country’s military mission in Libya for another two months.
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Mark van Uhm from NATO said the alliance has acquired more military assets for its mission in Libya, several days after NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged more precision strike aircraft were needed.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq said UN agencies are providing humanitarian assistance to dwellers in Misrata, and other parts of the North African country.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN chief’s special representative for children and armed conflict, called on forces loyal to Gaddafi and Libyan rebels to “immediately stop using children as combatants,” saying her office continued to receive “credible information on recruitment and use of children” on a daily basis.
According to UN estimates, nearly half a million people have fled Libya since the beginning of insurgency in mid-February, and around 330,000 people have been internally displaced.