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Envoys seek UN rights probe into violence in Libya

By John Heilprin

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 24 2011 12:20 p.m. MST

Graffiti showing a caricature of Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi with writing in arabic reading "The Monkey of Monkeys of Africa", a reference to Gadhafi's self-declared title "The King of Kings of Africa", is seen on a wall in Benghazi, Libya Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. Militiamen loyal to Moammar Gadhafi clamped down in Tripoli Wednesday, but cracks in his regime spread elsewhere across the nation, as the protest-fueled rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital.

Alaguri, Associated Press

GENEVA — Diplomats will be pressing Friday for a human rights investigation into Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's violent crackdown on protesters and for the suspension of Libya from the U.N.'s top human rights body.

The efforts at an emergency meeting in Geneva could also set the stage for other possible international sanctions.

Switzerland ordered the immediate freeze Thursday of any Swiss assets belonging to Gadhafi or his entourage, saying it wanted to prevent the possible misuse of state funds. The Swiss government made the decision "in view of the developments" in Libya, where security forces have launched violent reprisals against anti-government protesters.

European Union nations added a recommendation to suspend Libya from the U.N.'s Human Rights Council to a draft resolution being circulated Thursday ahead of Friday's meeting.

The EU also wants the rights council to approve a U.N.-led probe into "gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Libyan authorities" and to condemn violence against protesters and others as possible crimes against humanity.

"This is an extreme case, and it is imperative that all nations and people of the world and in this council speak with one voice," the U.S. ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, told diplomats Thursday. "Gadhafi is not the Libyan people, and in condemning the violence, we are conveying the strongest support with the Libyan people."

Council members Jordan, Japan, Switzerland and Brazil said they would support the probe and the unprecedented recommendation that the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly vote to suspend Libya from the rights panel.

But Nigeria, speaking on behalf of the African group, called the move "premature." Cuba agreed, saying media reports on the situation in Libya were "unreliable."

Any human rights probe could be useful to the U.N. Security Council if it considers whether to order an investigation into crimes against humanity under Gadhafi's rule, as it did when it ordered an investigation into crimes in Darfur in 2005, a spokesman for the International Criminal Court said.

"It (a probe) might be important for the Security Council to see if there is a need for them to intervene," said The Hague-based spokesman Fadi El Abdallah. But Libyan authorities also could accept the court's jurisdiction and agree to such a probe.

The French Foreign Ministry said "all courses of action must be examined, including referral to the international courts" concerning the Libyan regime's attacks on protesters.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will head to Geneva on Monday for a regular session of the Human Rights Council attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and other foreign ministers. The United States has said it is considering sanctions and other means to pressure Gadhafi's regime to halt its attacks on Libyans.

France's defense minister told France Inter radio it is worth considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya and said the EU was looking at financial, trade and political sanctions against Libya, including a possible freeze on purchasing Libyan oil.

NATO's chief, meanwhile, said the military alliance will stay out of the conflict. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Ukraine that the alliance "has no plans to intervene."

"We have not received any requests in that respect. And anyway, any action should be based on a clear U.N. mandate," he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that Gadhafi's continued violence against protesters was "completely unacceptable."

"It must stop and, as I am absolutely clear, if it does not stop there will be consequences," Cameron said, speaking in Doha.

Italy, whose islands are just a few hundred miles (kilometers) from the Libyan coast, is worried that the fighting in Libya could send a million refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean into Europe.

"This is not just a problem for Italy and the Mediterranean countries, it's a problem for Europe and the world," said Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni. "This is a catastrophic humanitarian emergency."

But other EU ministers said the situation should not be over-dramatized, and that far fewer refugees than expected have arrived.

A U.N. refugee agency spokesman told the AP on Thursday that 16,000 people have fled across the Libyan border to Tunisia so far.

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Associated Press writers across Europe contributed to this report.

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