NATO, military partners extend Libyan mission

NATO and its partners in the military campaign to protect Libyan civilians have decided to extend their mission another 90 days, the alliance's top official says.

Decision 'sends a clear message to the Gadhafi regime': Fogh Rasmussen

Men walk next to a destroyed tank in Tripoli Street, the centre of fighting between forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and rebels in downtown Misrata on May 23. (Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)

NATO and its partners in the military campaign to protect Libyan civilians have decided to extend their mission another 90 days, the alliance's top official said Wednesday.

"This decision sends a clear message to the Gadhafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is trying to withstand the NATO air barrage and put down a rebellion among his own people.

Wednesday's decision came during a meeting of ambassadors from the 28 NATO countries plus ambassadors from the five non-NATO countries participating in the Libya campaign — Jordan, Qatar, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, said Carmen Romero, NATO's deputy spokeswoman.

It comes just a few days after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told CBC Radio's The House that he hopes for unanimous consent when Parliament is asked to approve a "reasonable" extension of Canada's military involvement in Libya.

Harper said in the interview that that there are encouraging signs of success in Libya, but the reasons Canada intervened in the first place haven't changed and warrant the military’s continued involvement.

Canadian government 'committed' to mission

Harper had announced Friday at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, that Parliament will be asked to agree to an extension after the new session opens Thursday.

"The government is very committed to the mission and we can, I think, report to Parliament that it has both gone well so far and that its continuation is essential for the original reasons we embarked on it," the prime minister told CBC Radio’s Susan Lunn.

The House of Commons unanimously approved a three-month operation in mid-March, just ahead of the spring election. Canada is helping to enforce a no-fly zone as part of a multinational operation. About 650 Canadian Forces members are involved.

NATO also is enforcing a UN arms embargo against Libya. That part of the operation has no time limit.

Critics have charged that the military campaign has turned into a stalemate and said it is difficult to dislodge a government through air power alone.

But NATO, while maintaining that regime change is not its goal, says it has significantly diminished Gadhafi's ability to attack civilians.

Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement that the extension of the campaign carries a message for Gadhafi and the Libyan people.

"NATO, our partners, the whole international community, stand with you," he said. "We stand united to make sure that you can shape your own future. And that day is getting closer."

Libya forces committed war crimes: UN

Meanwhile, a United Nations panel said Wednesday that Libyan government forces have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in a conflict it estimates has killed between 10,000-15,000 people.

The UN investigators said there is evidence that opposition forces also committed "some acts which would constitute war crimes."

The three-member panel based its finds on interviews with 350 people in government and rebel-held parts of Libya, as well as in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

With files from CBC