Libya's new leaders bask in Western support

14th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Libya's new rulers basked in a wave of international support Wednesday, as they awaited a visit by the leaders of Britain and France, and Washington pledged to respect the right of Libyans to decide their own future.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are planning to visit Libya on Thursday, sources said in Paris.

Both Cameron's and Sarkozy's offices declined to comment when asked about the trip, but the head of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdel Jalil confirmed to AFP that Sarkozy would visit.

He added that "we say to the leaders coming tomorrow that they will be safe."

Earlier, a senior US official said after meeting Abdel Jalil that Washington stood behind the Libyan people, as Spain reopened its embassy in the capital and said it had secured UN approval to release 350 million euros ($480 million) in frozen Libyan accounts to the country's new rulers.

"The United States respects Libya's sovereignty," said Jeffrey Feltman, the highest ranking US official to visit the Libyan capital since its capture from Kadhafi's forces on August 23.

"This is a victory by the Libyan people and Libya's destiny must be decided by Libyans alone," the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs told a news conference.

His visit came as a top-level team from the African Union, which has refused to recognise the NTC, discussed ways to press for an inclusive Libyan government at a gathering in Pretoria, South Africa.

Feltman paid tribute to the work of NTC in overseeing the transition from Moamer Kadhafi's 42 years of iron-fisted rule.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he said, had been reassured after the NTC renewed its commitment to respecting rights and promised to investigate allegations of abuses following a damning report by Amnesty International.

Another group, the Mali-based Defence of Foreigners in Libya, on Wednesday accused Libya's new authorities of jailing and torturing some 300 foreigners, mostly Tuaregs from Mali and Niger, suspected of being Kadhafi backers.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton expressed concern over the reported rights violations, notably towards sub-Saharan Africans.

"I remain very concerned at recent reports of human rights violations in Libya, including cases of arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings," Ashton said.

Ahead of the AU meeting, South Africa's Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane had said it was not enough for Libya's new government to be headed by Abdel Jalil, who was justice minister under Kadhafi.

"I don't think if you have one or two people we would then say this is all-inclusive, because you have picked one person from that part of the world," she said.

Nkoana-Mashabane insisted the NTC knew "exactly what the AU meant by an all-inclusive interim government" but she stopped short of saying Kadhafi loyalists should be included.

But the difficulty of bringing together Libya's various factions was brought to bear by criticism of Abdel Jalil's number two in the NTC, Mahmud Jibril.

Islamist leader Sheikh Ali Sallabi accused Jibril of "stealing the revolution" and laying the foundations for a totalitarian state by appointing Ali Tarhuni to head the oil portfolio at the expense of more experienced managers.

"The premise of a totalitarian state is palpable by the action of Mahmud Jibril, who seeks to give his relatives the means to control the state," said Sallabi, who is supported by Qatar, and has played a key role in funding and arming the fighters of the new Libyan leadership.

In neighbouring Niger, Kadhafi's son Saadi was under guard in the capital Niamey after fleeing Libya at the weekend, but NATO acknowledged it has no idea where the toppled despot himself is holed up.

His deposed father appealed from his hideout for the international community to help his hometown of Sirte, encircled by forces loyal to Libya's new government.

"It is the duty of the world not to leave (Sirte) alone, and everyone must assume their international duty and immediately come to stop this crime," Kadhafi said in message broadcast on Syrian-based Arrai Oruba television.

NATO stressed Kadhafi was not a target in the daily bombing campaign it has kept up against his remaining forces, which still control a swathe of the coast around his hometown of Sirte as well as a string of Saharan oases.

The military alliance -- whose latest strikes hit targets around Sirte, Waddan and Zillah -- said it had no idea whether Kadhafi himself had also fled his country.

Kadhafi's forces continued to mount attacks against NTC fighters in a few areas, including the oasis town of Bani Walid, one of the deposed strongman's last bastions of support, southeast of Tripoli.

Kadhafi, wanted for alleged crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, remains in hiding but many of his inner circle and a son have fled to neighbouring Niger.

The commander of US forces in Africa, General Carter Ham, said Kadhafi still has small pockets of loyal fighters in Sirte and Bani Walid, but that his ability to influence events "has largely been eliminated."

In a further show of support for Tripoli's new rulers, diplomats in New York said Wednesday Britain hopes a vote will be held within three days on a UN Security Council resolution it has drafted setting up a UN mission in Libya.


© 2011 AFP

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