France to host 'friends of Libya' talks next week
President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday he had invited countries who see themselves as "friends of Libya" to talks in Paris on September 1 on the future of the country without Moamer Kadhafi.
After meeting the prime minister of Libya's rebel National Transitional Council, Mahmud Jibril, Sarkozy said countries that took part in the campaign against Kadhafi were invited, as well as China, Russia, India and Brazil.
"This meeting goes well beyond the contact group," he said, referring to the coalition of NATO members and allied Arab states that are carrying out air strikes or sending cash and arms to help the NTC rebels.
Sarkozy said military action would continue until the last Kadhafi loyalist lays down his weapons, and that France and its allies would stand by the NTC while it tries to create a new democratic Libyan state.
"We have decided in full agreement with David Cameron to hold a great international conference to help the free Libya of tomorrow, to show that we're passing towards the future," Sarkozy said.
In London, Prime Minister Cameron's office issued a statement saying the conference was a joint Franco-British initiative.
"This will be an opportunity for the NTC to set out how the international community can help them on the path to establishing a free, democratic and inclusive Libya," said Downing Street.
It was not clear at what level the various countries would be represented in Paris, but Sarkozy said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would be there.
Jibril, the number two figure in the NTC -- a Benghazi-based rebel movement that has been recognised by many world powers as the new authority in Libya -- thanked Sarkozy for his "courage" in backing the revolt.
He said September 1, Thursday next week, was a symbolic date for Libyans, as it is the anniversary of the day in 1969 when Kadhafi, then a young army colonel, seized power and launched a four-decade reign of terror.
Now, 42 years later, the strongman and his sons are in hiding and his headquarters has been overrun, but fierce fighting nevertheless still rages between loyalist troops and NTC fighters.
Jibril said he did not know where Kadhafi might be hiding.
"There are a lot of unconfirmed reports in this period of revolt by free men in Libya," he said. "We have no firm information ... for the moment he's still on the run. Arresting him is one thing, judging him is another."
Libyan businessmen, with the approval of the NTC, have placed a 1.7 million dollar bounty on Kadhafi's head, hoping to convince someone in his shrinking band of followers to give him up or kill him.
Kadhafi and his son Saif al-Islam are the subject of indictments by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, alleging that they have committed crimes against humanity in their defence of their regime.
But Jibril said no decision had yet been made as to whether the ousted strongman would be tried on home soil or face international justice.
"It's a question that Libyan jurists will study. They'll give their advice to the NTC with a view to protecting Libyan national interests," he said, adding that to give Kadhafi a fair trial would "set a good example."
At the Paris press conference, Sarkozy also declared: "Syrians have the right to democracy too, and they are not condemned to being suppressed by a regime that does not understand we are living in a new century."
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad faces a pro-democracy revolt similar to Libya's, but his opposition is largely unarmed and he has so far been more successful than Kadhafi in carrying out a brutal crackdown.
"Let's be clear, France will not intervene without an international mandate, that's the baseline," Sarkozy said, ruling out military intervention. "But that does not mean we should leave the Syrian people to be massacred."
© 2011 AFP