Russia says that NATO should apologize for causing civilian casualties during their air raids in Libya in 2011 and pay compensation. Moscow has also accused Libya’s new government of training Syrian rebels and instigating terrorism.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin issued his sharp criticism while speaking at Wednesday’s meeting of the UN Security Council. It is notable that this is the first time the UNSC has met to discuss the role of NATO air strikes during last year's military intervention in Libya which toppled Colonel Gaddafi.
“We expect NATO to acknowledge that its air raids caused civilian casualties, to apologize and say that it is prepared to pay the appropriate compensation,” Churkin asserted.
The US ambassador Susan Rice responded by defending NATO’s actions in Libya, saying that no international laws were broken and the alliance had cooperated fully with subsequent investigations. She cited the international commission of inquiry on Libya, which concluded that NATO “conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties.”
But China’s deputy ambassador, Wang Min, pointed out that the commission also recognized that NATO airstrikes had caused civilian casualties in Libya. According to the report released by the United Nations on Friday, NATO has not sufficiently investigated the air raids that killed at least 60 civilians and injured 55.
“Amongst the 20 NATO airstrikes investigated, the Commission documented five airstrikes where a total of 60 civilians were killed and 55 injured,” says the document published on the UN Human Rights Council’s website. “The Commission also investigated two NATO airstrikes which damaged civilian infrastructure and where no military target could be identified.”
Last year, Russia and China abstained from supporting a UN resolution that sanctioned a no-fly zone over Libya. Later, the two permanent members of the Security Council accused NATO of overstepping its UN mandate to protect civilians in Libya.
These debates came as tribal leaders in eastern Libya declared partial autonomy. The country's National Transitional Council described it as a dangerous move that could break up the nation.
At the same meeting, Russia’s UN envoy expressed Moscow’s concern about the uncontrolled proliferation of Libyan arms in the region. However, it was not just the weapons that were being exported, he said.
“We have received information that in Libya, with support from the authorities, there is a special training center for the Syrian revolutionaries and that people are sent to Syria to attack the legal government,” Vitaly Churkin said. "This is completely unacceptable according to all legal bases.”
The Russian ambassador pointed out that such activities undermine stability in the Middle East.
“We think that Al-Qaeda is in Syria and therefore there the question arises: Is transporting the revolution not turning into the transporting of terrorism?” he asked.
His claim provoked a sharp response from the Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib, who was at the meeting. He said that a matter “which concerns the blood of Libyans should not be a matter of political propaganda by any country against other countries.”
In an apparent reference to Syria, al-Kib said he hoped that “the reason for raising this matter will not be to impede or prevent the international community from intervening in the situation of other states, where their peoples are being massacred and killed at the hands of their rulers.”
Later, while talking to reporters the prime minister sharply denied Russian allegations, saying he was unaware of any camps training Syrian rebels on Libyan territory.
“As far as training camps, unless this is done without government permission, which I doubt, I’m not aware of any,” he said adding, however, that the Libyan government does support the “good” cause of Syrians opposed to Assad.