Harper wants 3-month Libya mission extension

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday, following a speech at the UN, that his government will ask Parliament for a three-month extension of Canada's participation in the NATO mission in Libya.

'Canada will see the NATO mission through to its conclusion,' PM says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is welcomed at the United Nations Tuesday by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Harper attended a meeting on Libya's future and pledged support. (Jessica Rinaldi/AP)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will ask Parliament to extend Canada's participation in the NATO mission in Libya by three months, he said Tuesday following a meeting on the country's future at the United Nations.

Canada's military role in the ongoing mission that aims to protect civilians from Moammar Gadhafi's forces is due to end Sept. 27. Rebel forces that led the uprising against Gadhafi now control Tripoli but fighting continues in other areas and Gadhafi is at large. The National Transitional Council has now taken over governing Libya and Harper vowed Canada's ongoing support Tuesday for the NTC.

"We will participate in the mission until armed threats emanating from Gadhafi forces are eliminated from the country," Harper told reporters in New York. "We will ask Parliament to extend the mission by three months but I'll be frank with you in saying, we're pretty optimistic that we'll achieve our objectives well before that timeline."

Harper made the three-month commitment after telling the "Friends of Libya" meeting at the UN that Canada would "see the NATO mission through to its conclusion" and that Canada stands ready to assist the UN as it co-ordinates international efforts to support the NTC.

The NDP opposes any extension of Canada's military mission in Libya and the Liberals have said they are open to the idea but support depends on what is specifically proposed by the government. With a majority in Parliament however, the Conservatives don't need the support of the opposition parties to pass a resolution.

Harper outlined for those at the meeting that Canada has unfrozen $2.2 billion in assets and is reopening its embassy in Tripoli. He said Canada will continue to support the NTC as it "seeks freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights for all Libyans."

"Canada is proud to have played a key role through forceful but measured actions to protect civilians against a brutal oppression and to defend core values and principles that underlie good governance, development and prosperity," said Harper.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters at the UN Tuesday that Canada will extend its mission in Libya by three months. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)
Harper was among the world leaders at the meeting where heads of state, NATO and representatives from other international groups such as the African Union discussed the future of Libya now that Gadhafi has been deposed and the NTC is the governing body. The NTC's chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil and other officials were also at the meeting, which is being held on the sidelines of this week's General Assembly.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the NTC to its first major meeting at the UN and offered to help in whatever ways the NTC sees fit as it begins governing after months of bloody conflict.

Last week, the UN established the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to co-ordinate international efforts in post-Gadhafi Libya and appointed Ian Martin of the United Kingdom to lead it. It also voted to accept the NTC as Libya's representative at the UN and its flag now flies outside the building with the flags of other nations.

Harper told the meeting that Canada backs the UNSMIL mission. "Canada stands ready to support the new government through a co-ordinated United Nations effort," he said.

He later said to reporters that Canada hasn't yet decided what specific role it will play in the UNSMIL mission but is looking at three areas: helping to develop democratic processes, disarmament and economic development.

"Through our Canadian companies we look forward to participating in the economic development of Libya as well," said Harper.

International leaders discuss Libya

U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and other world leaders took their turns addressing the meeting. In prepared remarks released ahead of his speech, Obama told his fellow leaders that the conflict in Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when it works together.

He said every country represented at the meeting can take pride in knowing they helped protect Libyans from Moammar Gadhafi and his regime that began attacks on civilians last spring when they rose up against him.

"Our international coalition stopped the regime in its tracks, saved countless lives, and gave the Libyan people the time and space to prevail," Obama said.

The U.S. president pledged the international community's ongoing support as Libya rebuilds and the NTC begins governing in place of Gadhafi, who is still at large. NTC forces are now largely in control of the capital Tripoli but fighting with pro-Gadhafi forces continues elsewhere.

British Foreign Minister William Hague said his country would continue to do its part and is committed to providing humanitarian assistance, unfreezing assets so the NTC has access to funds, and deploying military support to advise security forces and help clear landmines and other weapons.

He said the international community must help Libyans consolidate the freedom they have won.

The U.S. announced it is re-opening its embassy and other countries are doing the same. Canada began the process of re-opening its embassy last week and the ambassador to Libya, Sandra McCardell, and a team of officials have been setting up operations at a temporary location in Tripoli while damage to the embassy is repaired.

McCardell was back in Canada Tuesday, providing a briefing to MPs on the defence committee along with Major Gen. Jonathan Vance and other officials.

Vance said Canada is "more than pulling its weight militarily" in Libya and that the air and sea support that it has provided as part of the NATO mission has helped reduce the threats to civilians. NTC forces control Tripoli but hostilities continue in other areas, particularly in the south he said.

Canadian Forces on the ground in Libya

"Progress is being made but it's slow and difficult," he said.

Vance confirmed that Canadian Forces members have been on the ground in Libya but he said they have not been engaged in fighting, they are there to provide security for McCardell and other diplomats.

What role the Canadian Forces may play in the future and whether they might provide training to Libyan police and security forces the way they are in Afghanistan, isn't yet known. Canada hasn't yet determined what roles it will play in the post-Gadhafi Libya.

But Vance said he doesn't expect to have troops on the ground.

"We continue to be at the disposal of the government to help re-establish the mission presence there. Future plans for the mission in terms of our contribution would be prematrue to discuss," he said. "We're prepared for any eventuality of course ... but we are not anticipating a on the ground role at any point in the future."

UN to release action plan

At the briefing, officials said the UN is preparing an action plan that should be complete by the end of September. It will lay out what steps should be taken between October and December to help stabilize Libya and ensure that humanitarian needs are met.

Clean and running water, protection for migrants, fuel, medical supplies and personnel, and the remnants of explosives are among the humanitarian concerns outlined by officials. 

There are still pockets of the country in the centre and south where the threats to civilians from pro-Gadhafi forces remain high but McCardell said life is beginning to move toward normalcy in Tripoli and other major centres. She said NATO bombs were dropped on Libya with extreme precision and that there is not widespread damage throughout the country. Where buildings, roads and other infrastructure were damaged, reconstruction is underway, she said.

Oil is a prime source of wealth for Libya and some facilities were damaged in the conflict but are being rebuilt, she said.

McCardell said one of the priorities for the re-opened embassy is to help Canadian companies who were working in Libya before the conflict, or want to now, set up business there. Officials have been holding conference calls with more than 20 companies, she said, answering their questions and concerns and advising them about new opportunities that could arise as Libya rebuilds.

The embassy is hoping to have a trade commissioner stationed at the embassy by next week, she added.

McCardell outlined some of the challenges facing Libya and the NTC in the future, which are being discussed Tuesday at the UN meeting. She said expectations from civilians for education, employment and medical services are rising quickly and the NTC has to try and maintain cohesion among disparate groups and individuals with personal ambition. Introducing rule-of-law and respect for human rights in a country with little experience with democracy is another challenge, she said.

"These are significant hurdles to overcome," she said.

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Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.