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A rebel fighter guards a checkpoint in Libya on March 31, 2011.

Andrew Winning/Reuters/Andrew Winning/Reuters

Stephen Harper is flatly ruling out deploying troops in Libya, even though the United States has reportedly escalated its involvement by authorizing covert aid to rebels in the civil conflict.

"My position is clear. We will not have soldiers on the ground," Mr. Harper told reporters in Halifax during an election campaign stop.

Canada has sent CF-18 jets to help a coalition of countries including the U.S. and Britain enforce a United Nations resolution that authorized intervention to help Libyan rebels under siege by Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.

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A Canadian general, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, has been placed in command of the NATO-led mission that has pounded Col. Gadhafi's air defences and ground troops.

Canadian CF-18s have attacked radar sites and ammunition depots, and the frigate HMCS Charlottetown has joined the international coalition's offshore flotilla.

Reuters reported March 30 that U.S. President Barack Obama signed a presidential order authorizing secret aid to the rebels in recent weeks, and U.S. media have reported that Central Intelligence Agency operatives are on the ground in Libya co-ordinating with rebel forces.

Mr. Harper said Canada does not consider placing soldiers inside Libya as "part of our mission."

"We're working closely with allies to enforce the United Nations resolution and … to try and see the departure of Mr. Ghadafi from power, because we've all been clear he's lost legitimacy and he needs to go for the benefit and welfare of the people of Libya."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Canada should rule out giving weapons to Libyan rebels.

"No arming the rebels; that seems to me not where we want to go," Mr. Ignatieff said in Winnipeg on Thursday after pledging new childcare funding should his party form a government.

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"But we then have to be part of the international effort to get Col Gadhafi to leave."

Mr. Ignatieff used the opportunity to criticize Stephen Harper for failing to win a seat on the UN Security Council last year.

Canada, Mr. Ignatieff argued, could be "at the centre of the action."

"We could be leading the diplomatic and political efforts to get rid of Col. Gadhafi, but we're not there and everybody knows why."

Mr. Ignatieff said the Liberals supported the use of Canadian jets to prevent Col. Gadhafi from "massacring his people."

He noted that he was part of group that put together the "responsibiity to protect" doctrine.

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"That is not a doctrine about armed military intervention and boots on the ground. That's a doctrine that says if Canada can stop a dictator massacring civilians, Canada should … step up."

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