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Security Council Condemns Libya for Embassy Attacks

By Trevor Rowe
The Washington Post


The U.N. Security Council issued a unanimous statement Thursday saying it "strongly condemns" attacks by Libyan protesters this morning on embassies of Council members that voted Monday to impose an air and arms embargo on Libya, including the Venezuelan Embassy, which was sacked and burned.

The Council called on Libya to compensate Venezuela, whose ambassador was president of the 15-member body when it imposed the embargo. It criticized Libya's contention that the attack was not directed at Venezuela but was a spontaneous popular reaction to the embargo.

"Any suggestion that those acts of violence were not directed against the government of Venezuela but against and in reaction to Resolution 748 is extremely serious and totally unacceptable," the Security Council statement said. It also called on Libya to ensure the security of diplomatic personnel and diplomatic premises.

A U.N. spokesman said Libyan Ambassador Ali Houderi presented his country's apologies to the United Nations and to Venezuelan Ambassador Diego Arria for the attacks. But U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering dismissed the apology as "crocodile tears, and I'm not sure they're worth much at this stage."

News service reports said hundreds of protesters, many armed with rocks and gasoline bombs, also attacked the Austrian and Russian embassies and demonstrated at the French, Italian, Belgian and Hungarian missions -- all of whom represent countries that voted in favor of sanctions. Italy, which is not on the Security Council, represents British interests in Libya, and Belgium represents U.S. interests.

Diplomats said that whatever lingering goodwill toward Libya that existed among nonaligned countries in the wake of Monday's vote could be seriously compromised by the attacks. Nonaligned officials were said to view the attacks as a major diplomatic blunder by Libya, a country where demonstrations are tightly controlled.

"I think that this is so transparently and obviously directly related to bring pressure on members of the Council in an outrageous fashion that the Security Council has to take action," Pickering told reporters before the Council meeting.

The Libyan news agency JANA said the demonstrators demanded that the diplomats of the countries that voted for sanctions leave Libya and that Tripoli sever ties with those nations as well as expel their citizens. It reported that dozens of demonstrators were hospitalized after clashes with riot police but diplomats said there were no indications of injuries among the protesters.

Arria, described the attack on his country's embassy as a "criminal act of terrorism" and said it was well organized.

"There were four Libyan policemen at the door of the embassy in Tripoli and the ambassador warned them and the police didn't do anything," Arria said. "They just stood there watching the whole process while (the mob) burned down ... and ransacked our embassy."

A diplomat said that at the Russian Embassy, about 200 demonstrators tried to storm the building but could not get through the main door. They broke windows with rocks and damaged four cars outside.

Belgian officials told Security Council members that several hundred demonstrators who arrived outside their embassy were brought in government-owned buses.

The decision to impose sanctions on Libya -- effective April 15 -- was made after Tripoli failed to comply with a Council resolution adopted Jan. 21. It called on Libya to hand over two reputed intelligence agents wanted by the United States and Britain in connection with the 1988 bombing of a Pan American airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Five countries -- China, Cape Verde, India, Morocco and Zimbabwe -- abstained in the vote. They had argued in favor of allowing the International Court of Justice to rule on the validity of the extradition request. British Ambassador David Hannay told reporters that as a result of the attacks, Libya has "succeeded in two days in uniting the Council."

What little visible support remained for Libya was reflected in the successful efforts of some nonaligned members to alter a draft of Thursday's statement that would have characterized the attacks as "inadmissible acts of terrorism." Instead, Council members agreed to describe them as "intolerable and extremely grave events."

When asked if further action is contemplated, Pickering told reporters that "it's not possible for us to rule in or rule out any particular action."

Despite the attacks and a Libyan government suggestion that citizens of countries at odds with it should get out of the country, there were no reports of mass attempts by foreigners to leave Libya.