Britain, France to help hunt for 'dangerous' Kadhafi
David Cameron Thursday pledged British help in hunting down Moamer Kadhafi as he and France's Nicolas Sarkozy became the first foreign leaders to visit the new Libya and forces advancing on the fallen strongman's hometown came under heavy fire.
"We must keep on with the NATO mission until civilians are all protected and until this work is finished," the British prime minister told a joint news conference in Tripoli on a lightning visit.
"We will help you to find Kadhafi and to bring him to justice," he said.
The French president said the toppled despot remained a "danger" and that there was a "job to finish" in eliminating his forces' remaining strongholds.
Sarkozy, accompanied by Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on what Finance Minister Francois Baroin called an "historic" visit, insisted there was "no ulterior motive" in Western assistance to the new Libya.
"We did what we did because we thought it was right," he declared.
Cameron and Sarkozy, whose forces spearheaded the NATO air war that helped topple Kadhafi, are immensely popular among ordinary Libyans for their role in ending the fugitive strongman's 42 years of iron-fisted rule.
They met the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who earlier gave assurances that Tripoli had been sufficiently secured since its capture from Kadhafi forces last month for their visit to go ahead.
Cameron said NATO would continue its UN-mandated air operations until Kadhafi's remaining redoubts around his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and in a slew of Saharan oases extending to Libya's southern borders are neutralised.
"We will go on with the NATO mission for as long as is necessary under UN Resolution 1973 to protect civilians," he said.
"This work isn't finished yet. There are still parts of Libya under Kadhafi control.
"And the message I think to Kadhafi and all those still holding arms on his behalf is it is over. Give up. The mercenaries should go home.
"Those who still think Kadhafi has any part in any part of government of any part of this country should forget it. He doesn't. It is time for him to give himself up."
Cameron said Britain would release 600 million pounds ($950 million, 690 million euros) in Libyan assets as part of a series of measures aimed at supporting the new authorities in Tripoli.
He also said Britain would release another 12 billion pounds in frozen Kadhafi regime assets as soon as the UN Security Council approved a draft resolution that Britain and France are to put forward on Friday.
Britain has already approved the release of one billion pounds, the last tranche of which is to be handed over soon.
"If we can pass the UN resolution that we will be putting forward with France tomorrow, there's a further 12 billion pounds of assets in the UK alone that we will be looking to unfreeze," Cameron said.
A massive security operation accompanied the visit, with roadblocks along the road from Metiga airport on Tripoli's eastern outskirts and the city-centre hotel where the two leaders held their talks cordoned off by French-backed local forces.
Cameron and Sarkozy were taken by helicopter to the Tripoli Medical Centre where they were given a heroes' welcome for their role in ending Kadhafi's rule.
Jubilant crowds of medical staff thronged forward to shake their hands, chanting: "Thank you, thank you," as they toured three hospital wards.
They later headed for Libya's second largest city Benghazi, the rebels' base during their seven-month uprising.
The visit came as a large convoy of NTC forces zeroed in on Kadhafi's hometown of Sirte in gruelling heat, confident of overcoming one of the final pockets of resistance.
Fighting erupted after the heavily armed convoy neared houses after driving into the desert town of Wadi Bey, some 130 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of Sirte, an AFP correspondent reported.
"There is a group of young people who want to resist. We gave them two hours to throw down their weapons but they refused," said Colonel Bashir Ali, a field commander.
"We talked with them today and told them to send out the women and children but, for sure, there are still families here. I hope no one gets hurt."
The convoy of battle-hardened fighters had set out from Misrata early Thursday before splitting at the crossroads town of Abu Qurin, where a commander said they would approach Sirte in a pincer movement.
"We are turning the tables on Kadhafi. We were attacked in Misrata on three fronts, and now we're going to attack Sirte on three fronts," said Fawzy Sawawy, head of the Mountains Brigade.
Their task appeared to have been made easier as their advance was preceded by a series of NATO air strikes in and around Sirte.
In an operational update, NATO said that on Wednesday it had struck a command and control node, a military vehicle storage facility, four radar systems and two surface-to-air missile systems in the vicinity of the city.
Russia said it backed lifting the NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Libya in a new resolution on the conflict being drafted by Britain.
"Considering the changed situation in Libya, Russia has proposed to include in the draft and clauses the lifting of the no-fly zone regime," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters.
Kadhafi spokesman Mussa Ibrahim accused Libya's new rulers of "starving" loyalist areas in their bid to subjugate them.
"Daily life in Sirte and Bani Walid (a desert town to its southwest) is very difficult," Ibrahim, a cousin of the toppled tyrant, told Syria-based Arrai television.
"They are starving entire regions to force the people to give themselves up.
"They have cut off electricity and water as well as supply routes and are preventing food and medicines from coming in, thereby violating all international norms."
Ibrahim, who did not say where he was, said Kadhafi was in "perfect health" and that his morale was up but did not indicate his whereabouts.
© 2011 AFP