Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Baird gung-ho for war before fall of Gadhafi

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OTTAWA -- During a trip to eastern Libya last June, at a time when rebel forces were locked in a stalemate with troops loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi and many countries were calling for a ceasefire, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird actively encouraged the rebels to keep fighting.

The revelation opens a window onto the role Canada played in the civil war -- while raising questions about whether this country violated the spirit of the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorized international involvement in the conflict.

Baird visited Benghazi, the capital of the anti-Gadhafi movement, on June 27, where he met with senior leaders from the rebels' National Transitional Council and delivered trauma kits.

Despite NATO-led air and sea support, the rebels had been unable to make significant gains against Gadhafi forces and a ceasefire was in the works.

Following his meeting with NTC president Abdul Jalil and foreign representative Ali Issawi, Baird told reporters: "Obviously, this thing can't end too soon -- the killing and the disruption of daily life. I think they're just as keen and as enthusiastic to get this behind them and begin to establish freedom and democracy here in Libya."

What Baird didn't reveal -- and which is being revealed now in speaking notes for a meeting several weeks later with his Norwegian counterpart and obtained through access to information -- is he had urged the rebels to continue with their attacks.

"When in Benghazi, I impressed upon the National Transitional Council the importance of pushing forward militarily," Baird was advised to tell Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Store.

Canada was one of the most hawkish outside nations involved in the Libyan conflict, conducting a disproportionately large percentage of the air strike missions and providing diplomatic and humanitarian support to the rebels.

But while the mission has since been declared a victory by the Conservative government and other allies, many have questioned whether NATO and its members overstepped the terms of the UN Security Council resolution authorizing international intervention to protect civilians. Such concerns have been cited as just one reason the Security Council has had a difficult time approving any international action in Syria.

Roland Paris of the University of Ottawa's Centre for International Policy Studies, noted the UN resolution demanded an immediate ceasefire: "If (Baird) had encouraged the rebels to push forward militarily, then on its surface that would have been inconsistent with the terms of that resolution."

Baird spokesman Joseph Lavoie said in an email: "the events bear out the wisdom of our position."

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 A24

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