Greece to let bases be used for NATO operations in Libya

Athens will let NATO forces use military bases in Greece for operations in Libya after the United Nations approved the imposition of a no-fly zone over the North African country, the government appeared to decide on Friday.

Sources said that following a meeting between Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas and Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos and consultation with Prime Minister George Papandreou, it was decided that Greece would not take part in any military operations but would be willing to provide support for humanitarian needs or to help patrol the Mediterranean to ensure arms are not smuggled into Libya.

Greece, however, does appear willing to allow NATO forces to use bases in the country to be used for operations in Libya, where Colonel Muammar Gadhafi?s forces have been pushing back pro-democracy rebels over the past few days before announcing a ceasefire yesterday.

The two options for NATO if it wishes to use bases in Greece are at Aktio in the west of the country, where AWACS aircraft that carry long-range radars can take off from, or at Souda in Crete. Two US KC-135 planes, known as Stratotankers, which are used for midair refueling, are already at Souda, as is an American C-130 plane and a French C-160 cargo plane. The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge docked at the naval base in northwestern Crete on March 18. Some 400 US Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina arrived a few days earlier. There are also two US tankers and a French minesweeper in Souda.

?We are ready to contribute, in cooperation with our partners and allies, to the effort of ensuring that international law is respected,? said Droutsas, who added that the international community was correct to allow the use of ?any means necessary? to protect civilians.

The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the Communist Party expressed concern about Greek forces being involved in any military operations or forces in Greece being used.

However, Droutsas?s comments suggest that Athens, which has traditionally had good relations with Gadhafi?s regime, was encouraging a nonviolent solution. ?Greece believes that everyone?s goal should be to solve the crisis in Libya, to restore stability and to ensure the smooth transition to democracy through a wide dialogue between the groups representing the country?s people,? he said.

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