French foreign minister urges Nato to do more in Libya

Weeks of fierce government bombardment of Misrata have terrorised the city's residents, killing dozens of people and leaving food and medical supplies scarce.

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AJDABIYA, LibyA // Col Muammar Qaddafi's forces fired rockets along the eastern front line and shelled the besieged city of Misrata yesterday as France said Nato should be doing more to take out the regime's heavy weaponry targeting civilians.

Several rockets struck Ajdabiya, the main point leading into the rebel-held east, and witnesses also reported shelling in Misrata, the only major city in the western half of Libya that remains under partial rebel control.

Weeks of fierce government bombardment of Misrata have terrorised the city's residents, killing dozens of people and leaving food and medical supplies scarce, according to residents, doctors and rights groups. International groups are warning of a dire humanitarian crisis in Libya's third-largest city.

"Unfortunately, with the long-range war machines of Col Qaddafi's forces, no place is safe in Misrata," a medical official there told The Associated Press, asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisal. Six people were killed on Monday and another corpse was brought in to a clinic yesterday, he said.

The French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said Nato's actions are "not enough" and that the alliance should be firing on the weapons being used by Col Qaddafi's troops.

Mr Juppe spoke on France-Info radio the day after Libyan rebels rejected a ceasefire proposal by African mediators because it did not insist that Col Qaddafi relinquish power.

"Nato has to play its role in full. Nato wanted to take the military command of the operations," Mr Juppe said. He also urged the EU to do more to get humanitarian aid to Misrata.

France has played a particularly aggressive role in Libya in recent weeks, pushing diplomatically for a UN resolution to allow the international military operation and firing the first strikes in the campaign.

France also was the first to recognise the Libyan opposition and to send a diplomatic envoy to the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

A Nato general rejected the criticism and said the alliance is performing well and protecting civilians.

Dutch Brig Gen Mark Van Uhm said the alliance was successful in enforcing an embargo, patrolling a no-fly zone and protecting civilians. "I think with the assets we have, we're doing a great job," he said.

Nato took over command of the operation over Libya from the US on March 31.

Also yesterday, a British government official said Libya's former foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, is travelling to Qatar to share his insight on the workings of Col Qaddafi's inner circle. Mr Koussa, who fled to England in late March, is the highest ranking member of Qaddafi's regime to quit so far. He had been a longtime aide throughout Qaddafi's 42-year rule.

Mr Koussa has been asked to attend the conference on Libya being held in Doha as a valuable Col Qaddafi insider, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

MI6 agents stopped questioning Mr Koussa last week, according to the official. Mr Koussa had been staying in a safe house until late Monday night, according to Noman Benotman, an ex-member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and relative of Mr Koussa who has been in contact with the former foreign minister since he fled to Britain.

Although Mr Koussa was provided with legal advice, Mr Benotman said he believed he had "cleared most of the legal hurdles in the UK" surrounding his alleged involvement in the Lockerbie bombing and arming the IRA.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed the trip in a statement, saying that Mr Koussa was "travelling today to Doha to meet with the Qatari government and a range of other Libyan representatives".

African mediators were meeting in Algeria to discuss Libya yesterday, a day after the rebels rejected their ceasefire proposal.

"Col Qaddafi and his sons must leave immediately if he wants to save himself," said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, a former justice minister who split with Qaddafi and heads the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council. "If not, the people are coming for him."

* Associated Press