US jet crashes in Libya, pilots safe

Updated: 2011-03-23 07:04

By Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy (China Daily)

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US jet crashes in Libya, pilots safe
People examine the wreckage of a US F-15E fighter jet on Tuesday after it crashed near the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.The jet suffered apparent mechanical failure but both members of crew ejected and are safe, a US military spokesman said. [Photo/Agencies]

TRIPOLI - Muammar Gadhafi's forces attacked two west Libyan towns on Tuesday after coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, and NATO tried to resolve a heated row over who should lead the Western air campaign.

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Meanwhile, China called on Tuesday for an immediate ceasefire in Libya.

All parties must "immediately cease fire and resolve issues through peaceful means," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular news conference, citing reports that the air strikes had caused civilian deaths.

"The UN resolution on a no-fly zone aimed to protect civilians. We oppose abuse of force causing more civilian casualties and more serious humanitarian disasters," Jiang said.

Western nations have still to decide who will take over command once Washington pulls back.

The United States will cede control in days, US President Barack Obama said, even as divisions in Europe fuelled speculation that Washington would be forced to retain leadership of air patrols that will replace the initial bombardment.

"We anticipate this transition to take place in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks," Obama, facing questions at home about the US military getting bogged down after long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, told a news conference on a visit to Chile.

In the first apparent air force casualty of the campaign, a US F-15E crashed in Libya overnight Monday and its two crew members were rescued, the US military said.

The plane came down in field of winter wheat and thistles outside the town of Bu Mariem, about 38 km east of the rebel capital of Benghazi. The crash was probably caused by mechanical failure and not hostile fire, the military said.

In the latest fighting on Tuesday, Gadhafi's tanks shelled the rebel-held western city of Misrata. Residents said the death toll for Monday had reached 40.

Al Jazeera news network said Gadhafi forces were also trying to seize the western rebel-held town of Zintan near the Tunisian border in an attack using heavy weapons.

Rebels in east Libya were positioned just outside Ajdabiyahon on Tuesday, making no further advance on the strategic town despite a third night of Western air strikes.

NATO officials resumed talks in Brussels on Tuesday after failing to reach agreement at heated talks on Monday.

Some allies were now questioning whether a no-fly zone was necessary, given the damage already done by air strikes to Gadhafi's military capabilities, a NATO diplomat said.

"Yesterday's meeting became a little bit emotional," the NATO envoy said, adding that France had argued that the coalition led by France, Britain and the US should retain political control of the mission, with NATO providing operational support, including command-and-control capabilities.

"Others are saying NATO should have command or no role at all and that it doesn't make sense for NATO to play a subsidiary role," the diplomat said.

Underlining the differences in the anti-Gadhafi coalition, Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said if agreement was not reached on a NATO command, Italy would resume control of the seven airbases it has made available to allied air forces.

A NATO role would require political support from all the 28 states. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a NATO member, said on Tuesday that the United Nations should be the umbrella for a solely humanitarian operation in Libya.

Several sites in Tripoli had been subject to new attacks, state television said. "These attacks are not going to scare the Libyan people," it said.

AP, Xinhua contributed to this story.




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