Libyans fire rockets at Canadian warship

OTTAWA—Forces loyal to Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi fired a dozen rockets at a Canadian warship earlier this week in what the government is dismissing as a desperate act by a weakened regime.

None of the rockets hit the HMCS Charlottetown, and there were no injuries or damage to the ship in the Monday morning incident, said Jay Paxton, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

“The ineffective attempt to strike a NATO ship simply highlights the pro-Gadhafi regime’s desperation to have some effect on the systematic reduction of its forces,” Paxton said.

The Libyans fired BM-21 rockets, a Russian-made, mobile truck-mounted system. Though some versions of the weapon have a maximum range of about 20 kilometres, it is not considered a precision bomb, especially at a long range.

“NATO maritime forces are aware of the military weapon systems possessed by the Gadhafi regime and operate with consideration of their capabilities,” Paxton said.

Capt. Jennifer Stadnyk, of Canadian Forces expeditionary command, said crew of the ship was not shaken by the incoming rockets.

“I can assure you that they weren’t close enough to frighten anybody or cause any concern for damage,” she said in an interview.

“They’re monitoring and they probably have a very good idea of what the threat is in the area.”

The Defence Department did not report the incident at its weekly briefing on the Libyan mission on Wednesday.

“The public affairs officer on the ship did mention that if they were asked they would have definitely commented on it. It was far enough away that there was no way those rockets were going to hit the ship,” Stadnyk said.

The Charlottetown and its 235-member crew are part of Canada’s contribution to the NATO-led mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

“Their mission is to reduce the flow of arms, related material and mercenaries to Libya,” Paxton noted.

The Libyan mission will be debated by the House of Commons later this month. The Conservative government wants to extend the mission beyond the initial three-month commitment.

Canada is also contributing seven CF-18 fighter jets to the NATO-led mission, and a Canadian general commands the international force.

They are helping to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolution to protect innocent civilians from their leader. NATO and its allies decided earlier this week to a 90-day extension of their military campaign to protect Libyan civilians from Gadhafi’s forces.

NATO warplanes continued their bombardment Thursday of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Canadian warplanes have flown approximately one-tenth of the more than 3,000 NATO attack missions. But military officials, citing operational security, won’t say whether Canadian jets are part of the Tripoli bombardment.

Harper and his fellow G8 leaders called last week for Gadhafi to step down. The stepped-up NATO airstrikes are in support of rebel forces that are trying to force Gadhafi from the power, after more than 40 years of iron-fisted rule.

Rebel forces now control much of eastern Libya.

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