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World

Window of opportunity closing as Libya no-fly zone debate rumbles on

Libyan rebels are continuosly losing ground to regime forces. That has analysts wonder whether the opportunity to intervene has already passed and if it's time to consider how the world should deal with the consequences.

Libyan volunteers stand on the outskirts of the eastern town of Ras Lanouf, Libya

The rebels fight on but Libya's regime is gaining ground

With the international community no nearer an agreement on a no-fly zone over Libya and with Moammar Gadhafi's troops making considerable gains in recapturing territory taken by rebels, foreign ministers of the G8 powers were due to meet in Paris on Monday in an attempt to forge an international consensus on possible intervention as time appears to be running out.

But even if a French-British no-fly zone draft resolution would finally get as far as the Security Council, it is far from clear whether it would be passed as Russia and China, two of the most powerful veto holders, continue to oppose it.

Analysts say window for action is rapidly closing

Members of the Security Council meet at the UN HQ in New York

Even if the resolution reaches the UN, it may not be passed

The inability of the international community to agree on action as the uprising in Libya has escalated into a full-blown conflict has prompted some analysts to suggest that the world's powers have missed their chance to act.

"The international community appears to have missed its opportunity to implement a no-fly zone in Libya in spite of high-profile declarations of support for its implementation by the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference," Kristian Ulrichsen, a North Africa and Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, told Deutsche Welle.

"With the Gaddafi regime apparently on the ascendancy, the window for action is closing rapidly," he added.

"The UN has indeed almost missed its chance for multilateral action to protect the Libyan population from the brutal excesses of the state," Alia Brahimi, a Middle East expert and author, told Deutsche Welle. "One final mandate could come in the form of protecting the people and rebel leadership in Benghazi specifically, but the international community must act rapidly as we should expect Gadhafi loyalists to make an assault on areas approaching Benghazi in the coming two to three days."

The strongest indications that the international community's opportunity has passed can be seen on the ground in Libya where Gadhafi's forces continue to retake important strategic cities from rebels across the east of the country while brutally suppressing the protest movement in other areas.

World faces scenario where Gadhafi remains in power

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi

The world faces a scenario where Gadhafi still rules Libya

Regime troops took control of the strategic oil town of Brega on Sunday, following the recapture of another strategic oil hub at Ras Lanuf, before pushing closer to the main opposition-held city of Benghazi. This followed the crushing of the revolt in Zawiyah last week, a city west of the capital Tripoli, and the movement of elite government troops towards Misrata, Libya's third biggest city, the only pocket of rebel resistance outside the restive eastern region.

All of which raises the possibility of Gadhafi regaining full control of Libya and remaining in power.

Such a scenario raises questions about how the international community would deal with Libya should Gadhafi crush the rebellion and remain in control.

"The international community would have to take steps to isolate any Gadhafi-led Libya," Ulrichsen said. This in turn could ultimately lead to the demise of the regime as it won't be able to rely any longer on its old networks of patronage and regional allies in an effort to circumvent international sanctions, argues Ulrichsen.

"It will be impossible to return to the modus operandi of the last eight years - effectively, engagement in return for steps towards rehabilitation - because that strategy has been discredited," Brahimi said. "We can expect Western states to press for a policy of isolation and possibly sanctions and the exiled Libyan opposition to continue to lobby for action against the regime."

"Contact would be minimal and cooperation withdrawn," Sir Richard Dalton, a Middle East and security expert at Chatham House, told Deutsche Welle. "Companies would be very reluctant to go back to Libya and the economic hardship from the run-down in economic capacity and purchasing power would exacerbate an already high risk of renewal of rebellion."

"Remember, the power of the feud and of revenge in Libyan society will be acute after such bloody suppression," he added.

Retribution a great threat to Libyan people

Displaced people wait for aid handouts at a refugee camp for people fleeing from unrest in Libya

Libya's people could suffer more if Gadhafi takes revenge

The major dilemma facing the international community in this scenario will be that while squeezing Gadhafi out of power will likely only be a matter of time, in that period the civilian population will undoubtedly suffer from regime-led retribution and rapidly declining living standards.

"If Gadhafi were to consolidate control over Libya we should expect him to pursue the politics of revenge," Brahimi said. "The regime will uncompromisingly punish the rebels - as individuals, but also as members of kinship groups. The regime's response is sure to be ferocious, and there will be calls for outsiders to intervene in the face of this massacre in the making."

Ulrichsen agrees: "The regime will likely deal with the rebels with great brutality."

He adds: "This is a point of great concern for the international community and should accelerate efforts to identify an appropriate method of intervention or protection for rebel-held areas of Libya."

Author: Nick Amies

Editor: Michael Knigge

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