Kouchner says too late to help Libya

GENEVA Wed Mar 16, 2011 10:21am GMT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner berated the international community for its delay in imposing a no-fly zone in Libya, saying it was already too late to save lives as Muammar Gaddafi's troops push on.

Kouchner, asked whether he backed intervention in Libya, told World Radio Switzerland in an interview aired on Wednesday: "It depends if you want to help the people or to let them die. If you want to let them die, be a diplomat, time will come for peace.

"But if you want to save the people, to save life, you have to decide now in the name of the international community," he said in the interview recorded in Geneva on Tuesday.

There have been urgent appeals from the U.N. and Arab League following Libyan government air strikes on rebel-held towns, Kouchner said. "We have the responsibility to protect. It has been accepted by the Security Council, voted by the U.N. General Assembly, and we are doing nothing."

Gaddafi's forces pushed towards the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Wednesday and his government predicted victory within days while world powers debated imposing a no-fly zone to help stop him.

Foreign powers condemn the crackdown but show little appetite for action to support an uprising that was inspired by pro-democracy rebellions that toppled the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents.

"A no-fly zone is a minimum. It's certainly already too late," Kouchner said. "Even if we were able to decide today, it's so late. We've know since 3 weeks that the poor civil society, the poor people, are dying. And we are doing nothing."

Kouchner, asked whether China and Russia still opposed a resolution in the Security Council on a no-fly zone said: "Yes, because of their internal situations. But you know I am no longer a foreign minister and I can tell you that this is not an internal affair."

Neither Libya nor the unrest in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt -- which ousted their leaders -- was only an internal affair, according to Kouchner. "It is our own affair."

Kouchner, a former Socialist known for speaking out on humanitarian issues, was felt to lack clout as foreign minister and was replaced in November as President Nicolas Sarkozy opted to switch some of his riskier early cabinet choices for old-school conservatives.

A trained doctor and co-founder of the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Kouchner wrote an influential book entitled "The Right of Interference," in the late 1980s arguing that there is a humanitarian duty to protect people.

"The international community must consider this movement, this Arab Spring, as very important, like it was coming out from Communism. And in a way, they counted on us," Kouchner said.

"The minimum was to help at the border of Tunisia, to help for refugees. And we were so slow, we did so, but not enough."

Asked whether it was too late now, he replied: "Yes."

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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