Europe's powers today failed to bridge a divide over the allied campaign in Libya, with ministers from the 27-nation bloc poles apart on the launch of strikes and a possible NATO role.

The European Union's first talks since the weekend launch of the campaign to protect Libyan civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's regime wound up with few decisions and an apparent agreement to disagree.

A final statement from the union's foreign ministers reiterated a call for Gaddafi "to relinquish power," confirmed the EU's main aim was "the protection of the civilian population" and welcomed United Nations Resolution 1973.

"While contributing in a differentiated way," from one capital to another, the EU as a whole would "give full effect" to the UN decisions alongside the Arab League and other regional powers.

But the talks opened with Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warning his partners in the international coalition that "it shouldn't be a war on Libya."

Germany, the sole European abstainee at the UN vote and now at odds with the other two "big" EU powers Britain and France, also turned up in Brussels slamming alliance action.

"We always said we wouldn't send soldiers," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "When we see that three days after this intervention began, the Arab League has already criticised this intervention, I think we see we had good reasons."

Bulgaria stood aloof, labelling military intervention in Libya an "adventure" driven by petroleum interests.

On the positive side, the ministers said the EU was ready to mobilise its military and civil defence assets to protect a humanitarian mission in Libya, if the United Nations requests it.

They also tightened the political and economic screws on Gaddafi, adopting their third wave of sanctions in as many weeks against the Tripoli regime, targeting 11 Gaddafi associates and nine economic entities.

More sanctions are expected to be announced later this week.

France's new foreign minister, Alain Juppe, whose country is co-leading the coalition with Britain, said the launch of the military campaign was a clear success.

"The initial success of our intervention is clear," Juppe said. "If we had done nothing, Benghazi would be a bloodbath."

Apart from Britain and France, also involved in the military campaign so far are Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy and Spain.

Norway has suspended the dispatch of its planes pending a clear decision on command.

Sweden and Luxembourg are willing to commit, but only under a NATO umbrella -- another sticking-point among the Europeans as France holds out against a majority of its partners who would prefer to see the 28-member alliance involved.

"We don't know who's doing what," said a European diplomat who asked not to be identified. "France is completely isolated in refusing NATO leadership. Why? In its national interest, for electoral reasons?"

Another diplomat said EU countries were "trying hard to understand the complexity of the French position."

Frattini walked away angrily warning that if NATO did not take over quickly, Italy would consider closing off access to its bases.

Libya's former colonial power, Italy enjoyed close political and economic ties with Gaddafi and fears an exodus of refugees from the vast desert nation. After dragging its feet, it sent four Tornado warplanes over Libya on Sunday and opened the bases to the international coalition.

Weekend suggestions by Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa that air and missile strikes exceeded the bounds set by the UN mandate appeared to have dampened Italy's enthusiasm.

"We want to verify very carefully all the actions undertaken in order to verify consistency with the (UN) resolution objectives," Frattini said.

Backing from Arab and African nations has been set as a priority in the wake of the pro-democracy movements sweeping north Africa.

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