France has reportedly begun supplying weapons on the quiet to the rebels in Libya, in an attempt to help them break the apparent stalemate in their battle against Colonel Gaddafi's forces. According to a source quoted in Le Figaro, France took the action without consulting its partners in the NATO bombing of the regime, because "there was no other way to proceed."
It's been slow going over the past three months for France, Britain and their allies. Forced to intervene to prevent a possible massacre when Gaddafi's forces reached the gates of the rebel-held Benghazi, the notion that Gaddafi's regime might fall quickly under pressure from the rebel forces on the ground and the NATO warplanes in the air now looks wildly optimistic. The popular uprising against Gaddafi which western leaders undoubtedly hoped for has not materialised, and instead of being on the side of the Libyan people, NATO rather appears to be merely on one side in a civil war. And the weaker side at that.
How NATO extracts itself from the conflict is less clear. But for a lesson from recent history, we can look a little further to the north in Bosnia. There, although the country's borders have remained in tact, largely separate administrations exist for the Serb-dominated areas, and those populated by Muslims and Croats. Critics say it's a solution which has put the conflict into deep freeze rather than solved it, but at least nobody's killing each other anymore.
Diplomats are reluctant to encourage the break-up of any nation, for fear that could spread instability to neighbouring countries, and the preferred option for those looking at Libya from both near and far would undoubtedly be it to remain in one piece. But when the internationally-brokered peace deal finally arrives, as surely it must, don't be surprised if it's a horribly complicated mess of regional assemblies and bureaucracies, that keeps everyone more or less apart, and just about happy enough to avoid reaching for their guns.