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Government yes to Gripen deployment

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Government yes to Gripen deployment
13:05 CEST+02:00
The Swedish government has given the green light to sending JAS Gripen fighters to Libya following a request from the NATO general secretary, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, for Swedish assistance.

During an extra meeting Tuesday the government decided to propose to the Riksdag that Sweden contribute to the NATO led military attack on Libya.

"The government has decided today ... to put to parliament the proposal to participate with JAS Gripen (jets) in the international military operation in Libya under the leadership of NATO," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said in parliament on Tuesday.

The Swedish contribution will be on the condition that the Gripen fighters are only used to keep up the no-fly zone and not to attack land-based targets.

Reinfeldt informed the Riksdag that there were many among the government parties who had wanted the fighters to be allowed to strike against land-based targets to protect civilians.

Reinfeldt, however, did not want to act without broad support from the Riksdag.

"Sending Swedish men and women to protect civilians in a foreign country is not to be treated casually. It is never risk-free," Fredrik Reinfeldt said.

However, the head of the Swedish Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) Jan Björklund is critical to restricting the contribution to keeping up the no-fly zone.

"The Social Democrats were very quick to criticize the government for not acting, but now when it is a reality, they are afraid to make a stand," he said to TT.

According to the new party head for the Social Democrats, Håkan Juholt, his party can't condone attacks on land-based targets.

"We don't know how the Libyan units are put together. For all we know they could be drugged children or child soldiers. We have no idea what is waiting for us on the ground, so it is too risky to expose ourselves to this," he said to TT.

The government proposed eight JAS Gripen fighters to be sent, along with one Hercules aircraft and one reconnaissance plane.

In addition to the aircraft, around 130 personnel, including pilots and ground crew will be involved in the mission. However, the number of service personnel may be increased to a maximum of 250.

The government proposes to deploy the aircraft initially for three months. The cost to Sweden is not to exceed 200 million kronor ($31 million).

"Sweden must take its responsibility when our fellow human beings are

threatened," Reinfeldt said.

Sweden is not a member of NATO, although it has been in NATO's Partnership

for Peace programme since 1994 and participates in the alliance's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force in Afghanistan with some 500 troops.

The last time Swedish fighter jets were in action was at the start of the 1960s, in a UN-mandated operation in the former Belgian Congo.

The Gripen fighter jets are made by Swedish defence group Saab, which is in

the running with France's Dassault and the US's Boeing for a multi-billion-dollar contract to supply the Brazilian air force.

A poll published last week showed some 65 percent of Swedes wanted their

country to take part in the mission in Libya.

The Swedish Riksdag could be ready to reach a decision Friday.

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