Russia warns against Libya ground operation

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday warned against a Western ground operation in Libya, saying it would be an "extremely risky" action with unpredictable consequences.

Speaking in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, Lavrov said that Moscow was worried by signs of a move towards a ground conflict involving Western forces in Libya.

"We are extremely concerned about what is happening in Libya," Lavrov said in comments made one day France announced it had already sent military advisers into insurgent-held eastern Libya.

Lavrov noted that foreign powers were "clearly being drawn into a conflict, but this one on the ground."

"We consider such steps to be extremely risky and fraught with unpredictable consequences," he added in comments reported by Russian news agencies.

Russia abstained from a UN resolution authorising the use of international force to protect civilians from Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's advancing forces.

It has since argued that the level of air strikes carried out by Western powers was not authorised by the UN action and backed Kadhafi's claims of heavy civilian casualties in the attacks.

Various Russian officials have previously voiced fears that the air campaign could lead to a Western ground invasion aimed at removing Kadhafi from power, which Moscow stresses was never the resolution's intent.

The UN statement permits the use of force to protect civilians but explicitly forbids a "foreign occupation force".

Lavrov said on Thursday that past examples of nations sending military instructors to train local soldiers became preludes to ground operations that resulted in mass warfare and deaths.

"There are cases in history when everything started with the sending of instructors and then everything went on for many years and led to the deaths of hundreds and thousands of people on both sides," Russia's top diplomat said.

On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London would send 12 military advisers to eastern Libya, but that they would not be involved in training or arming the rebels, or help in planning operations.

Italy has also announced plans to send 10 army advisers to aid the rebels.

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