Sweden joins participation in enforcing no-fly-zone over Libya

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

Sweden has joined NATO in helping enforcing the no-fly-zone over Libya.  Last week the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Sweden sending JAS Gripen fighter aircraft to Libya to monitor a UN-backed no-fly zone.

The parliament voted through the proposal by a resounding 240 to 18, with five abstentions.

“Sometimes the risk of intervening is less than the risk of not doing so,” said foreign minister Carl Bildt in reference to concerns that the intervention could, in a worse case scenario, harm civilians.

Bildt underlined that Libya and north African countries are neighbors to the EU and what is currently happening there is having a very real impact in the form of refugees arriving in boats on European islands in the Mediterranean.

Bildt called for European solidarity to help EU partners aid the refugees fleeing war.

“Lampedusa is a part of the EU, just like Ven, Sicily and Crete, and as much as Öland and Gotland,” he said.

The vote clears the way for the Swedish air force’s first international deployment in 48 years.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said Tuesday he would put to parliament the proposal of sending eight Swedish-built fighter jets, a transport plane and a reconnaissance plane to Libya, stressing Swedish jets would not be involved in ground strikes.

Sweden’s participation in the mission had received broad political support and the proposal was widely expected to pass.

Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag.

The only parliamentary group opposing the measure was the Sweden Democrats.

The party’s spokesperson Mikael Jansson warned against Swedish involvement ahead of Friday’s vote.

“What right to we have to take sides in a civil war through a one-sided bombardment,” he said predicting a long period of fighting and raised the prospect of clan warfare following a defeat for Muammar Qaddafi.

The Social Democrat foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin meanwhile argued that the decision to support the mission sanctioned by the UN Security Council was an easy one.

“We respond when the UN calls for the protection of civilians, this is a Swedish tradition,” he said.

The Nordic country is not a member of NATO, although it has been in NATO’sPartnership for Peace programme since 1994 and participates in the alliance’sInternational Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force in Afghanistan with some500 troops.

This week all eight Swedish JAS Gripen fighters landed at Italy’s NATO military base in Siciliy and are now under NATO command. Sweden’s role will be limited to enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya and will not involve any ground strikes as demanded by the left-wing opposition.

The Saab JAS 39 Gripen (Griffin) is a lightweight single engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab. Gripen International acts as a prime contracting organisation and is responsible for marketing, selling and supporting the Gripen fighter around the world. The aircraft is in service with the Swedish Air Force, the Czech Air Force, the Hungarian Air Force and the South African Air Force, and has been ordered by the Royal Thai Air Force.

The mission involving some 130 support troops will fly under NATO command and last three months at most.  Sweden would also provide “reconnaissance means” in a form to be decided.

Sweden is not a member of NATO, although it has been in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme since 1994 and has contributed some 500 troops to the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force in Afghanistan.

Sweden also took part in operations in Kosovo. Nevertheless Sweden’s air force has not been involved in action since it took part in a UN-mandated operation in the then Belgian Congo from 1961-63.

The Libyan operation will be the first combat tour for the JAS Gripen 39, produced by the Swedish defence group Saab.

Sweden’s Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway are already taking part in Libyan air operations.

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