Former UN Commander Bob Stewart's personal reasons for Libya action
Having witnessed horrific atrocities during the Bosnian War, the former British UN Commander has spoken of the personal reasons which led him to support military action in Libya.
Beckenham MP Bob Stewart served in the Balkan country from September 1992 to May 1993 in a war estimated to have killed 200,000.
He says he feared another Bosnia was about to unfold and that Britain had no option but back the no-fly zone which has set about disarming Colonel Gaddafi.
The 61-year-old said: “To me, all I saw was a repeat of Sarajevo and it was very personal to me. It sent shudders through me.
“If you had left it until this weekend you would have had a million people being blasted to bits. We had absolutely no choice but to do this. We had to save people’s lives.”
Colonel Stewart called on his peers in Parliament and the UN Security Council to act as he feared people living in Libya’s capital, Tripoli were suffering the same fate as those civilians massacred during the Bosnian conflict.
He recalled an incident in late April 1993 which had a profound effect on him while serving in the Balkan country.
His now wife Claire — who was then an international delegate for Red Cross, rescued a six-year-old girl from a prison camp — sent there after watching the murder of her parents.
Claire asked Colonel Stewart the night before if she could bring her and he had told her ‘no’, citing his responsibilities as the British UN Commander as the reason.
Ignoring him, Claire brought the girl, Melissa Mekhis, to his house anyway where his bodyguards looked after her, making her a bed between theirs to keep her safe before she was later reunited with surviving relatives. Mr Stewart said: “I give this as a practical example. It was my duty to help. If we hadn’t gone into Libya there would have been thousands of little Melissas. That is probably happening in Tripoli now. They are going from street to street and house to house seeking out and murdering the opposition.
“We had to act because although this country is crippled, what you, I and anyone else would do is want to protect a child from a brute.”
However, he admits that Britain is severely limited by funds and says he does not know how long we can sustain a stalemate.
He said: “We can’t do everything. We are absolutely stretched. The nightmare is that he stays in power controlling half the country. Everyone says ‘what is the end game?’ and I honestly don’t know. The first game was to save people’s lives. The one thing you can’t get back is someone’s life.
“Gaddafi doesn’t do peaceful. He was responsible for the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing and he armed the Provisional IRA. I probably encountered his weapons during my six tours in Ireland so in that way it is personal too. But it’s only personal in the way that I only want people’s lives saved.”
Asked if the UN permitted air-strikes are effective when Gaddafi’s forces are advancing by foot and tank, he said: “It is half a job but we can’t go after Gaddafi. It is not our business to invade. We have Afghanistan.
“I have no idea where this will end. The reason Libya was a special case compared to Bahrain and Yemen was because of the enormity of the killing.
“Is it about oil? There might be a bit of that although that argument doesn’t hold strong. It wasn’t about oil in Kosovo.
“I hope Liam Fox does look at the defence budget but he is doing that on a constant basis already.
“If I had my military hat on I’d say there is nothing more important and send more forces now. But I’ve got my politician hat on and you could say, ‘which hospital do I close down to send them?’
“It is a trade-off and nobody knows how long this will last. In an ideal world we’d send more troops in. All I know is that the people of Libya are begging us to help just like they did in Bosnia.”