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NATO urges civilians in Libya to avoid troops as airstrikes continue

NATO has warned non-combatants to avoid troops so it can step up airstrikes in Libya. Meanwhile, Britain, France and Italy have announced plans to step up efforts to end the deadlock on the ground.

a burning factory in Misrata, Libya

Rebel leaders have pleaded for foreign soldiers to help them

NATO has urged civilians to stand clear of its bombing blitz so it can step up the airstrikes on leader Moammer Gadhafi's forces.

"Civilians can assist NATO by distancing themselves from Gadhafi regime forces and equipment whenever possible," Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard said.

On Wednesday the Oscar-nominated British filmmaker and photographer Tim Hetherington and the American photographer Chris Hondros were among at least 10 civilians killed by the fighting in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata.

They are the second and third foreign journalists to be killed since the beginning of the uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, after Al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber was killed in an ambush on rebel stronghold Benghazi on March 12.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy was the first foreign leader to recognize the rebels

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday told the leader of Libya's rebels, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, that his country would step up its commitment as part of Western efforts to overcome a stalemate in the two-month conflict.

Help on the way

"We are going to help you," Sarkozy said after their meeting. French officials said the president and Jalil had discussed increasing the number of coalition airstrikes on Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

In addition, France and Italy have joined Britain in dispatching military advisors to eastern Libya to help the rebels. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said previously that the UK would send 12 military advisers but emphasized that there would be no ground troops in Libya. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the United States would not be sending military advisers.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has emphasized that there has been no consensus that a military solution would be quicker than a political solution, and that a deployment of troops was forbidden by the UN resolution.

Another "contact group" meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the future of the North African nation is slated for the first week of May.

Author: Sarah Harman, Rob Mudge (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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